The environment of the hot yoga room: bright lights, floor-to-ceiling mirrors on all four walls, natural light from a glass door or window. The atmosphere of the yoga room: temperatures upwards of 100+ degrees in combination with humidity. The room can feel balmy, beachy, and tropical. The costume of the yoga room: form-fitting, sweat-wicking shorts, sports bras, tank tops, capris. Environment + atmosphere + attire: well that certainly that leaves no place to hide…
This can be a daunting experience. I work with students that say the worst thing about coming to class is that they have to look in the mirror. They look at their reflection and despise what they see. They only see imperfections. As teacher & fellow practitioner, this breaks my heart. But I can cognitively empathize.
In 9th grade I had an appendectomy and a Meckel’s diverticulectomy (try to say that one 3x’s fast). Rare, and painful. I spent months in the hospital—it was a long recovery. For so many years I hated my scar from the surgery. People often stare when I am at the beach or in a swimsuit. [My perception is that they stare but do I really know for sure their intent or how to measure their curiosity?] Learning to love this scar has been quite the obstacle. This scar saved my life–and now thanks to my yoga practice, I realize it is pretty badass. Scars are marks on the body that show the body’s proven resilience. Skin is the largest organ of the body and is incredibly salient in the face of adversity! A stretch mark, a birthmark, a surgical scar, a battle wound—all tell a story of endurance and feat, large or small.
I spent 14 years hating this scar. And yes there are still times that I do, but we are process-oriented in practice and I am ever so grateful for that. Whether it is 14 or 45+ years of hating your body, hating a battle wound, hating a mark or scar—it is certainly not a productive use of energy. And in the yoga practice, finding ways to conserve energy so that it is properly channeled is of the essence. The body is an incredible vessel that encompasses systems that are so complex that we have only begun to understand its capacities. The outward appearance in no way compares to the potential of what’s underneath that exterior, scars and all. Thoughts shift, intention shifts.
One of the greatest benefits of a regular yoga practice is that it gives you time to pursue a relationship with yourself. Time to learn to look past the surface and dive for the depths. Spending quality time actually listening to your breath for 90 minutes. What is your body saying at each moment? How can you become more attune to what the body needs? What does the mind need? How can you decipher between the two?
Meditate, focus on yourself in the mirror. Take note of what the inner dialogue is. What can you learn from this? Are you quick to judge yourself or others? What are your perceptions of yourself? Does that scar affect who I really am? Does the lighting in the room really matter? How can you use the mirrors to your advantage instead of your dismay? Start to figure out how to love that person looking back at you.
What will it take to love the person in the mirror?
Concentrate; meditate on the person in the mirror. Watch, listen and observe intently. That person moving through the yoga practice, is you: authentic, weathered, seasoned, resilient you. And whatever the shape of the surface, it is beautiful.
Keala Mason lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She teaches at three local studios and travels through a national organization to teach group fitness instructors how to teach various formats of exercise. Currently Keala teaches hot yoga, vinyasa yoga, TRX, barre & anything that requires movement! She has her master’s from James Madison University in Kinesiology and continues to teach at the university.