Why I Take my Glasses Off Before Yoga Class

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!

<photo: torbakhopper>

3 thoughts on “Why I Take my Glasses Off Before Yoga Class

  1. Karin Wagner

    I too have enjoyed taking off my glasses for Blind Yoga! But for slightly different reasons. For me, it forced me to stop using the crutch of watching the teacher for every physical cue and instead listen and also rely on my own knowledge of the poses. I can’t say I struggle with comparing myself to others, or with negative messages to myself, but I do admit to sometimes getting distracted by something like a ragged toenail. Being blind does make it easier to put those details aside for an hour!
    Now I’ve had Lasik for 3 years so I no longer have to ask the question of whether to wear my glasses for yoga. I do recommend it to others, though!

    Reply
    1. Colleen Post author

      Hi Karin,
      Thanks for your comment, and great point! The “crutch” thing really makes sense to me. Actually, as a teacher I strive to walk around the room while teaching so that students can’t always rely on my visual example of the poses. I think it’s super helpful to have the eyes out of the picture for really feeling the poses in the body, too. After a certain point the refinements have to come from the inside out, if that makes sense.
      Wondering how Rolfing might view this issue– do you ever ask clients to close their eyes for instance?
      Best,
      Colleen

      Reply
      1. Karin Wagner

        Interesting that you would ask that question. Many people have the habit of closing their eyes during bodywork, and sometimes that goes along with drifting away. Since we are making changes to the body’s alignment, it’s important that people stay somewhat present. That can mean quietly monitoring their body awareness or some conversation, but totally going off daydreaming or falling asleep is less productive. So, I actually sometimes ask people to try keeping their eyes open – though they can rest their eyes closed whenever they like. Basically we can explore: How does it feel to have eyes open vs. closed? What is the emotional content of each position? How does it affect my ability to stay present, to relax, to feel safe, etc?
        For one client who was healing from a traumatic surgery, he tended to go absent with eyes open, looking dazed. In his case, gently closing his eyes helped him “contain” himself inside his body. It’s all about what’s true for that person – and sometimes just switching up their usual habit is a good thing!
        Thanks for asking 🙂

        Reply

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