Consequences of Comparisons
Like many of my fellow students here at Clark, I recently got back from an exciting and action-packed fall break. The break fell at an exceptionally appropriate time this year; before the break, I was waist-high in midterms, practices, rehearsals, meetings, midnight study sessions, lab assignments and the like, and I was more than ready for a break. To get away from the stress of it all, my roommate Faith and I packed our bags and headed to New York City to visit a good friend of ours, and do other New York-y things like shop and eat and look at things and ride trains.
Being the yoga fans that we are, one evening Faith and I decided to dip into our favorite yoga studio in Saint Marks. Yoga to the People offers donation-based yoga classes to anyone who shows up willing to commit themselves wholeheartedly to their practice for just one hour. I was a little nervous for the class, because it had been quite a while since my last yoga practice, and I knew how rigorous Yoga to the People’s classes could be, but my nervousness dissolved as soon as I set my mat down and began to focus on what was going to happen in the next hour.
The practice was much, much more difficult than I had anticipated it to be, but it was bearable because I focused on my own practice, rather than what everyone else around me was doing. There were people easily sliding effortlessly into poses and throwing themselves into inversions and handstands, and there was definitely a nine-year-old boy who was much, much better than me. It’s really, really easy to get caught up in what everyone else around you is doing, especially when you’re struggling with a pose, or you’re tired, or you’re pushing yourself past what your body thinks it’s capable of doing. It creates a vicious cycle of losing focus, which makes the practice harder, and the more you struggle, and more you think about the complete lack of fun you’re having, and how difficult everything is, and the more difficult things get, and so on and on and on and on and on and on.
I never really thought to connect this whole “focus on yourself, and don’t compare to others” yoga mantra to real life, but when I was in the Yoga to the People studio, struggling with a pose that usually comes easily to me because I was comparing myself to this bizarrely flexible nine-year-old, the thought hit me with all the force of ten speed trains. It’s really easy to overlook the struggle of others, because it isn’t something that we necessarily wear on our sleeves. In fact, it seems to be the norm that we play off our struggles or do our best to hide them. So when you’re having a rough go in life, or something is stressful, or you’re up to your eyeballs in midterms, it can be much too easy to take a three second look around and conclude that you’re an enormous failure. When you compare yourself to others, it can easily seem like everyone is lounging in pool chairs, sipping mimosas in the country club pool and meanwhile, you’ve lost a floatie and are violently flailing your arms, trying to keep your head above water.
But, as my yoga practices have taught me, constantly comparing yourself to people gets you nowhere fast. It snowballs you into a huge burrito of frustration, which can easily consume you and draw energy away from what you really need to be focusing on. On the other hand, if you focus on you and your needs, and recognize yourself for doing the best to your abilities, you may just find that things begin to get a little bit easier.