TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Yoga, Mirrors, & Proprioception

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis morning a yoga teacher I’ve studied with posted this article on her Facebook feed. It’s by an Indian yogini who moved to the U.S., and it offers five differences between the practice of yoga in India and in America.

It occurred to me that one additional difference that’s frequently commented upon is that mirrors are ubiquitous in American yoga studios, but a rarity in Indian studios.

There are many possible explanations of this point of divergence. Among the more cynical interpretations is that when yoga spread internationally it was never explained that there are no asana (postures) whose drishti (focal point of gaze) is the reflected “bootilicious”, yoga-panted backside of other students.

The explanation one is likely to hear, however, is that a student needs mirrors to be able to see whether his or her alignment is correct. Sounds logical? Actually, it’s lazy in the same way as saying, “I wanted to know what Lord of the Flies is about, so I rented the movie.” (Read the damn book.)

Yes, looking in the mirror will give one instantaneous feedback, but it won’t help one develop the bodily awareness that’s a huge part of the value of yoga. One should be seeking to enhance one’s proprioception. That’s a fancy way of saying, “know where your parts are.” Proprioception is defined as:  “the ability to sense the position, location, orientation, and movement of the body and its parts.” The body has a built-in ability to determine where one’s various parts are in space and whether said parts are straight or crooked. One may not realize this because one may have poor proprioception… because one looks in the mirror instead of closing one’s eyes and listening to what one’s body has to say.

2 thoughts on “TODAY’S RANDOM THOUGHT: Yoga, Mirrors, & Proprioception

  1. I agree with this for the most part, but having been trained in ballet, I personally find mirrors extremely helpful. The visual feedback helps train my own sense of proprioception. But my ballet training also included the teacher going around and correcting alignments and positions when they were off, because ultimately the visual feedback from the mirror can only do so much. The best yoga teacher I’ve had was very “hands on” – while my alignment in the mirror looked fine to me, she could adjust my position very subtly and deepen the posture in ways that I couldn’t have figured out from just looking at my reflection. So I find mirrors to be a useful tool, but not a substitute for good training.

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    • Good comment. Thanks. I would put dance and many other systems of movement in a bit different category for two reasons. First, you don’t necessarily have the time to be analytically introspective within the timing of the movement as you do in a Hatha Yoga class during which you are generally holding poses for an extended time period. Related to this, closing your eyes to heighten the feel your alignment is not an option. Second, the mirrors can’t be as much of a distraction if you’re in constant movement. In yoga, it’s a battle to keep the mind from wandering and to let one’s gaze wander. I don’t know much about dance, but I know in martial arts becoming distracted and letting one’s mind wander can end with a blow to the head so there is more incentive to stay on task and avoid wandering eyes and worrying about what others are doing relative to oneself.

      At the heart of this is that in India, even as studios began to develop, Yoga remained a personal and introspective endeavor. While there may be 30 people in the room, it’s not a group activity per se. In practices like Ashtanga Vinyasa in Mysore, students may look like they are doing entirely different practices because they are in different stages in the same sequence because they are linking it to their own breath.

      All this being said, at this point I think Indian studios are becoming more like U.S. studios faster than American studios are becoming like Indian studios. So who’s to say what is right.

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