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A week into my contact hiatus I decided I needed to combat my discomfort and extreme irritability with a yoga class. I had been avoiding yoga because I knew I wouldn't be able to do it in my glasses, and I was nervous: I wouldn't be able to watch the teacher, I wouldn't be able to follow the people around me to tell if I was doing things right, and I figured that my balance, which is mediocre at best when I can see, would be downright awful when I couldn't. But a week without yoga was making me even crankier, so I went.
I laid out my mat, got my props, and took off my glasses. The room around me turned into a giant blur. As class started, I felt far away and disconnected, but by our third sun salutation I realized I was actually enjoying the experience. It felt private and personal. I had no choice but to do what yoga teachers everywhere tell their students to do: I had to keep my focus on what was going on on my mat, in my body, in my mind, because I literally couldn't see far enough to focus anywhere else.
Concentrating on my own skills and my own body and my own goals was incredibly liberating; I felt great in that class.
I knew that the fuzzy objects around me were actually women twisting their bodies into the same shapes I was attempting, but I certainly couldn't give a visual confirmation of this knowledge. So there I was. In the same yoga class I had been going to twice a week for years, having a completely different experience than I had ever had before.
When I couldn't see the people around me, I couldn't compare myself to them. And when I couldn't compare myself to them, my practice became about me. I couldn't look at the girl in front of me and feel jealous that her forward folds were deeper than mine, or look at the girl next to me and feel superior because my backbends were deeper than hers, or look at the girl behind me and wonder if her stomach was flatter than mine. Not being able to see meant not being able to compare, and not being able to compare meant that I could only think about myself and my practice in terms of my self and my practice.
Concentrating on my own skills and my own body and my own goals was incredibly liberating; I felt great in that class. Usually class is full of ups and downs that vary according to how I think my body's expression of a posture stacks up against the other twenty bodies in the room. But this time I felt strong and sure of myself and confident. The difference was shocking. I knew I'd been comparing myself to the people around me, but I hadn't realized exactly how much I was doing it—or exactly how much it was dictating my experience.
After class was over I put my glasses back on. The blurs transformed back into women. I looked at my classmates as they packed up their mats and put away their props, still in their yoga clothing. I couldn't help but notice their bodies—but I told myself not to compare mine to theirs, not to wonder how many more chaturangas I'd have to do to make my arms look like the instructors, or how many more utkatasanas I'd have to do to make sure my ass was the firmest in the class.
I was disturbed by how often "people watching" actually meant comparing myself to others.
Leaving the yoga studio, walking to the train, sitting on the subway, walking home, I challenged myself to keep my mind from asking the questions it likes to ask: Is she taller than I am? Thinner? Younger? Prettier? Smarter? Funnier? Happier? Better dressed? It wasn't easy. I love people watching, and it's not a habit I ever plan to give up. But as I started tracking what this habit actually entailed, I was disturbed by how often "people watching" actually meant comparing myself to others.
So that day, each time my eyes landed on someone who triggered a competitive comparison response in my brain, I would simply take my glasses off and she (because it was always a she) would disappear into a round ball of fuzz, and I would remind myself that whether or not that fuzz had a better haircut than me had absolutely no import or relevancy to my life.
Since putting my contacts back in, I've tried to keep the comparisons turned off. It's a lot harder when I can't just turn the world into a giant blur, but I'm getting there. I'm trying, as my yoga teacher has been suggesting for years, to turn my gaze inward and do what I can do today. If I feel myself becoming too concerned with the girl with the perfect posture on the mat next to me, I close my eyes and remind myself that without the magic of contacts she would just be a blur. And blurs never have perfect posture.