If you’ve ever gone to a group yoga class in a gym, you most likely had a big mirror in the room. That mirror may be keeping you from developing a more profound yoga practice. Let’s explore how practicing with a mirror can be beneficial or detrimental.
The pros of practicing with a mirror
A mirror can help you understand where your body is in space as you develop your proprioceptive abilities. Proprioception is the ability to sense the position of your body parts even with your eyes closed. If you aren’t sure if you are following a teacher’s cues, check your position in your reflection. An example would be if a teacher asked you to stand with your feet hip-width apart. When we look down at our feet, the optical illusion causes us to think that our feet must step further out than is necessary. In a mirror, on the other hand, you can see where to place your feet directly under your hips.
Regarding safety, practicing yoga with a mirror can ensure your form is correct in various poses. Seeing yourself in asana can help you memorize the shape, especially if you are a visual learner. Combined with a teacher’s instruction, this visual feedback can also help you become aware of how certain poses look and feel in your body, which can help prevent injury.
If you are a yoga teacher, using a mirror can also be helpful to practice giving cues and demonstrating poses, so you see yourself how others will see you. Both verbal and visual cues are helpful to students!
The cons of practicing with a mirror
Practicing yoga with a mirror can be distracting, as it takes away from the meditative aspects of the practice. Mirrors tend to instigate a focus on aesthetics rather than how a pose feels or what we are learning about ourselves through the movement. It can also be challenging to find the right balance between paying attention to your form and not getting caught up in the idea of “perfect alignment,” which doesn’t exist! (That’s because everyone’s body is different, but that’s a post for another time.)
Mirrors can be very distracting in group settings because we can see others’ facial expressions and poses. In this situation, it’s easy to start comparing yourself to others. (Again, everyone’s body is different!) If you are committed to a regular group yoga lesson in a mirrored room, remember: yoga is not a competition.
In my personal practice, I like to close my eyes whenever I can (i.e. when it is safe to do so) to focus on the sensations in my body.
While a mirror may help you understand where your body is in space and check for safe form, it can also create an atmosphere that focuses on aesthetics rather than awareness or connection. Ultimately, I recommend using a mirror at the start of your practice, primarily if you are a visual learner. As you learn to follow a teacher’s cues, close your eyes and pay attention to where your body is in space. Over time, move your practice away from the mirror. Turning inward to connect and learn about yourself will help you develop a more profound practice.