Flipping the comparison coin is risky business. If the coin lands on one side you could be plunged into the depths of jealousy and low self-esteem. But if it lands on the other side you could be inspired, invigorated, and possibly refocused toward your goal. Is it possible to guarantee that your coin will land on the more positive side?
I think teachers (and parents and leaders) of all disciplines wrestle with this monster at some point during their careers. I have witnessed this coin tossing many times in the yoga studio, and it can get ugly when the coin lands on the wrong side. Students too often get bogged down in: “I’ll never be as flexible as so-and-so, she has more arm strength than I do so why should I even try to do Crow, I can’t do a headstand like him so I must suck, etc…”
But what do you do when the person next to you can easily touch their toes and you can barely touch your knees? A lot of people, either consciously or subconsciously, flip the comparison coin, get discouraged, then “push” themselves too hard in that direction, risking injury to be more like their neighbor.
Respect your person
One of the most common expressions you will hear in a yoga class is “respect your body.” Unfortunately, not many teachers spend adequate time on this concept of “respect.” Usually, this phrase is interpreted in yoga as not pushing too hard in a particular posture, or not forcing the body past its natural resistance point, and don’t get me wrong, these are definitely important things to observe when practicing any physical discipline or sport.
But I think what we should be saying as teachers instead of “respect your body,” is “respect your person,” because that phrase encompasses the entirety of the physical, mental, and emotional self. If a student is respecting their whole “person,” their comparison coin will most of the time land positive side up. Why is this?
When a student respects their entire “person,” they are more likely to respect the entire “person” that is the object of comparison as well. When you compare yourself to another person from the perspective of respect that means the two of you are on equal footing. One is not better than the other, just different. From this place of equality, you are then allowed to admire without jealousy, appreciate without judgment, and emulate without fear of failure. And, as a bonus, you realize that both objects of comparison are capable of bettering themselves with dedication and patience.
Instead of feeling jealous that your neighbor can touch her toes in class, why not flip the coin and be inspired by the capacity of the human body to stretch with practice?
Instead of despairing over not being able to go up into a headstand like that guy over there in the corner, why not be happy that there is something in his hectic life that he can control, and then use that as a model for your own life? There are many other ways to exercise control than turning yourself upside down, but you can use his headstand as a springboard to creatively address the lack of control in your own life.
Instead of getting angry that everyone else in the class can do the dancer posture except you, why not appreciate the beauty and grace of the pose? Isn’t it fantastic to be able to find beauty in another’s efforts? Do you see how inspiring that can be? After all, that person is just as human and mortal as you are, so does it not then make sense that you have the capacity to move in that positive direction as well?
Yoga is a practice
I can guarantee you that no-one walks into a yoga class just magically being able to “do” these things. Yoga is a skill-based practice, with the emphasis on practice. So to compare yourself negatively to someone who has put in the hours of effort is not only not fair to you, it diminishes their hard work.
As human beings, we will never be able to get away from comparing ourselves to others because it is inherent in our nature. But if you flip the comparison coin and it ends up on the negative side, know that you always get a do-over. You can re-flip that coin and focus on the positive side instead! It is always your choice whether to be discouraged by the achievements of others or to be inspired by the capacity of human beings to succeed and better themselves.
K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. She also writes adult parables and short stories as well as books about yoga and meditation. Kris is a determined chess player, an origami enthusiast, a classically trained pianist, and a playwright. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.
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