As I walk into the yoga studio to lay out my mat, my vision is blurry. I smile at every person I pass, since I can’t really see the details of their faces well enough to tell who is who. After class, people often remind me, “I was right behind you!” or “Yeah, I was in that class too.” They have to remind me, since I am too blind to tell where everyone is. My vision with my glasses is 20/20. But I choose not to keep this perfect vision when I practice. I take my glasses off before almost every class I take.
Why? Well, initially I started taking off my glasses because a ruined a pair in the heat. I practice various styles of yoga, including power vinyasa in a heated room. After many hours spent in a sweaty studio, I found the transition coating was flaking off my lenses. So once I got new glasses, I swore to protect them by taking them off before heading into a heated room. (The temperature is between 95 and 103 degrees Fahrenheit in the classes I take.) But as time went on, I found new, more important reasons not to keep my spectacles on.
First, I am much less self-critical with my glasses off. With perfect vision, I can’t help but catch myself in the mirror, and I’m more likely than not to become distracted by something superficial about my appearance. I am your classic “Type A” personality–I push myself harder than anyone else does–and my time on my mat is sacred because it’s an escape from personal criticism. It’s much harder to criticize yourself when you can’t properly see yourself.
Second, having my glasses off makes it much harder for me to compare myself to others in the room. It’s so easy as a yogi to spend your whole time in class wishing you could have someone else’s deep backbend, or wondering why the heck you can’t touch your toes with the ease of that ballerina two mats away. Deep in my heart, I know that every single person in the room (and in the world!) is a precious being, with their own unique anatomy and personality. As I sometimes remind my students, every person in the room is exactly where they need to be at that moment. We can’t just switch bodies, and even if we could we would find a whole new set of issues to worry over. Chances are that even the ballerina is consumed with body confidence challenges. But that attitude is easier spewed than lived. And I will take the little concentration tricks that life gives me.
With my glasses off, I find it much easier to shut out the negative internal voices, so that I can just focus on the present moment, on feeling the shapes in my body, and on cherishing every single breath. I also spend a lot of time on my mat with my eyes closed. After years of practice, I am confident enough in many of the poses to close my eyes and maintain an internal focus. In classic yoga texts this idea of shutting out unnecessary inputs is called pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses. It is a crucial skill in this era of over-stimulation.
Now, I’m not suggesting that eyesight isn’t useful on the yogi’s path. Clearly, there are times when I wish I had my glasses, so as to watch the instructor demonstrate a pose, for instance. But overall the rewards I get from imperfect vision are too great to give up. So I keep it up.
And in the end I think that “imperfect vision” may be a more perfect form of vision. Sitting in a meditation posture after class, I flutter open my eyes and see a human being, sitting in a beautiful space, tall spine, open heart. Just another human. Fallible and full of potential. That break from my ego–the break gifted to me by the absense of my specs–is quite restful to my soul.
What do you do to shut out negative thoughts during your practice, or out in the real world? I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, especially your little tricks for staying focused and positive on your mat!