One of the differences between Yoga and other forms of exercise which people often mention is the fact that Yoga is non competitive. It is commonly described as being ‘process oriented’ as opposed to goal focussed and, as a result, our awareness is more internal and less external.
That’s quite different to many aspects of life where we are constantly noticing what other people are doing and tend to compare ourselves to others.
Competition and comparisons do happen in Yoga. I have been on training courses with other yoga teachers where people are doing what can only be described as showing off -aiming to be the most flexible in the class- practising and volunteering to demonstrate strong, elaborate postures and probably injuring themselves as a result.
I have also practised and taught in places with wall to wall mirrors where everyone is watching themselves and others in the glass. This might help alignment, but it can also make people self conscious or rather boastful and self satisfied about what they can do.
It is quite natural for someone who is new to Yoga to compare themselves to others in the class, perhaps feeling inferior to the person next to them who can do a deep forward fold or sit on the mat in a seemingly perfect cross legged pose and thinking they will never be able to achieve the same. Sometimes people might even feel that it is a sign of weakness, rather than strength, to adapt a posture to suit their needs or use a prop such as a belt to stretch the hamstrings or a folded blanket underneath the head, to help keep the back of the neck long. But yoga involves listening to your inner wisdom and developing an individual practice rather than feeling you have to do the same as others.
In some ways competion can be quite healthy because it can keep us motivated. In Yoga as in other activities it is good to develop and feel we are progressing and learning and starting to master new practices. It can also make a practice more interesting as it becomes a creative rather than a static process.
However being competitive can also be stressful, exhausting and demoralising and it can undermine our self confidence.
What can be relaxing about yoga is being able to switch off from the outside world, find our own little pocket of calm and start to discover one of the yogic principles of ‘santosha’ or contentment.