I'm still pretty new to doing yoga in a group setting. For a long time, I practiced to streaming video in the privacy of my own home, enjoying the benefits of yoga, but not always getting the challenge of an instructor working with me, or the ability to learn from the wealth of experience in a class setting.

I've started to go to yoga twice a week at lunch and sometimes in the evenings. There is something that all of my teachers seem to say: the only thing that matters is what is happening on your mat.

Photo by  AmberStrocel/flickr/Creative Commons

They mean: don't look around the class and compare yourselves to those around you. Don't worry if you don't have workout gear as cute as the girl next to you, or if you can't get your feet behind your head like that woman in the front. Focus on what you can do, today, and where you are right now. Nothing else is of use.

This is easier said than done.

I learned the art of comparison from a very early age. In ballet, we worked hard to keep in time with one another, so that it looked like we were moving as one large unit. There was no individuality, the ideal dancer was someone who fit interchangeably into a piece. Beautiful, but not unique.

I find myself looking around, in life, observing the people around me and comparing myself, almost unconsciously, to their placement. Although, instead of checking out their forward fold, I'm eyeing their kids, their spouse, their happiness level. I start focusing on their mat and all at once, my own doesn't look so great anymore.

A very dear friend once wrote something in an email that has stayed with me for years. I was struggling, as I do sometimes, with wanting what is not yet, with wondering why things are the way they are. She listed those people, the people who are not perfect and are not always happy, but are nearby in my life. "They are irrelevant," she said.

She is right.

No amount of comparison or hoping or hanging out with someone is going to change what my life looks like.

Only God can do that.

But it's not enough for me to focus on my mat. On me. Turning my focus inward will only make me dependent on myself, thinking that I can make my life work.

I thought these verses from Hebrews 12 offered something to ponder here:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In my yoga classes, and in my life, I don't want my focus to be on what I can do, or how great I am. I want to be surrounded by a cloud of witnesses that I do not need to compete with, running in the same direction, keeping my eyes where they belong: on Jesus.

Photo by John Fraissinet/flckr/Creative Commons