As humans we all experience judgment. There are many times where we can be incredibly quick to come to a conclusion about a person, a place, or a thing – often based off of a first glance – and while we are so quick to judge others, we are even quicker to judge ourselves, making judgment seem like one of the hardest habits to break.
But lucky for us… we have this thing called yoga.
The more we step onto our mats the more we delve deeper into these judgments about ourselves and others. Through our practice of movement, breathing, and mindfulness we allow ourselves to become observers: observers of our thoughts, observers of our feelings, and observers of how we choose to react to those thoughts and feelings. Do we allow ourselves to get distracted, fall out in frustration, and feel shame for the lack of integrity? Or can we move through the experience with presence and mindfulness and compassion?
When I first started practicing yoga it was purely for the physical workout. I was recovering from a knee injury, I wanted to become more flexible, and I wanted to get strong – drop some pounds and get myself in better shape. While the dedication to a consistent, Vinyasa practice did help me to strengthen and tone and create more fluidity within my body, I started to noticed a bigger shift beginning to happen. Instead of rolling out my mat for a workout, I found myself rolling out my mat for a “work in.” My practice was allowing me to slowly break down the walls I had built up – the harsh judgments, the limiting beliefs, and the self doubt that I had been carrying around with me for so long. The doors of compassion were beginning to open.
It wasn’t until my 200-hour teacher training that I really began to understand what it meant to be compassionate towards myself. Thanks to self-inquiry and a consistent journaling practice I began to bring more awareness to my judgments and when and why they were showing up. During a practice, I would try to be mindful of when that harsh voice would get loud, criticizing myself, another student, or the teacher. After the practice I would write in my journal, noting what judgments came up for me and reflecting on what I was feeling at that moment and why I was feeling that way. I began to see a pattern. I was way too hard on myself and in return, I was way too hard on others. I expected myself to be perfect and I expected others to maintain the same type of perfection. And many times I began to notice that the things I found to be annoying or frustrating about someone or something else were usually qualities that I seemed to hold as well…oof! That’s always a tough pill to swallow.
But one of the most beautiful things I’ve come to understand about compassion is that it can mold and move with us as we continue to grow. Now that I am teaching, I’ve begun to look at compassion through a completely different set of eyes. Because when you take on that role as teacher, you automatically begin to hold a space for others who are breaking through their own judgments and doubts and limiting beliefs. I wasn’t able to fully grasp what it meant to be compassionate towards others until I truly learned what it meant to be compassionate towards myself. And we’re not talking about the pity kind of compassion, but a much deeper kind of compassion, coming from a place that we are all one. As a teacher you quickly learn that everyone shows up on their mats for different reasons – some as light as physical exercise and some as heavy as to deal with death, depression, or addiction. It’s a reminder that we are all doing the best that we can with what we’ve been given and no matter how different we may appear on the surface, we all experience the same types feelings, insecurities, and judgments on the inside.
I now understand that compassion is the key to community and harmony. The more we practice bringing compassion onto our mats, the more we will see compassion showing up for us off of our mats. As we begin to loosen the shackles of perfection, we forgive ourselves for all of the too-quick conclusions that we have made. In understanding and appreciating both our positive attributes and our quirky flaws (because we all have them) we learn to understand and appreciate those qualities in others. In releasing our judgments and limiting beliefs we inspire others to do the same. So the next time you roll out your mat, I encourage you to ask yourself the question, “Where can I show myself more compassion?” Then allow the doors to open.
Cait Lawson is a RYT-200 and Living Yoga Ambassador currently located in Rincon, Puerto Rico where she teaches yoga, SUP yoga/fitness, and offers surf lessons and eco-tours around the island. Follow more of her adventures at www.sunburntandsalty.com.