Mirrors in yoga studios: should they stay or should they go?

I love the yoga scene in Seattle. We have so many options for classes, styles of yoga and an incredible diversity in studios. Everywhere you look, from the suburbs to the heart of downtown, there are as many different kinds of places to practice yoga, as there are students practicing.

With all this diversity, it’s fun to pop into random studios for one-time sessions, just to get a sense of something different. It’s also fun to have a home studio for your “Om away from home” if you will; a place where you enjoy a regular practice as a beloved community member. As a yoga teacher, I like to ninja into places where nobody knows me, and I can really drop into my own experience, anonymous and happy. I love how a different studio feels, sounds and even smells. It wakes me up. I’m more aware and less on auto-pilot. And that in itself can be fun, much like a relaxing “staycation” at your own house. But let’s agree that it’s also fun to travel someplace exotic that’s outside of your comfort zone. So too, are the experiences of taking yoga classes where it’s familiar, as well as where it is new.

Different studios offer us different insights into our practice. Many variables contribute to making each yoga studio feel a world apart: different lighting, different heating concepts, the use (or abuse!) of music in a class, and one other big variable: MIRRORS. If there is one variable that gets the most people talking and deciding preferences, it’s mirrors.

As an instructor, I have to admit that mirrors are an easy way to see your whole class at one time, especially when you teach with your back to them. It also gets you out of the hassle of identifying your left and right sides when mirroring (facing) your students. As a teacher trainer, it’s very easy to help people see what they are looking for in alignment from the visual perspective. As a student, I am guilty of placing too much celebration into how my body looks in my costume, my poses and my physical form (as well as berating myself mercilessly as I age). Yes, there are definite advantages and disadvantages to the mirrors, especially when leading a Hot Hatha class. Cues like “Throat visible in the mirror,” and “See your foot above your head in the mirror” are obviously useless, sans mirror.

However, as an instructor and a teacher trainer, I have to tell you something that’s incredibly cool. When you witness people practicing yoga, or practicing teaching yoga, without mirrors, you see true presence and stillness. You see people drop out of their darting eyes and furtive thinking, and you witness a stillness and calm so beautiful it reveals their inner light. I’m serious. They breathe deeper and they appear more peaceful. This summer I led three separate 200-hour RYT sessions, and in two studios there were no mirrors. The Teacher Trainees in these communities were so inquisitive in their discussions, so deep in their inquiry, that despite the ten hour days, it was really energizing. Day after day, hour after hour, the trainees were in their deepest breath, deepest Drishti, deepest Pratyahara-sensory withdrawal. I deeply love and respect each community of practitioners I worked with this season, to be sure, but looking over this experience, I have made a decision about my own teacher training studio. I won’t be installing mirrors.

All in all, I want to be clear. On the mirror issue, I do think BOTH are best. I LOVE having the mirror when I practice yoga, teach yoga and teach teachers. I always will. While it is a daily fight to avoid getting too pumped up about “crushing my poses” or down on myself for my changing body as I age and struggle with weight and body image, I’ll use the mirror in my personal practice to learn about myself, and not to simply look at myself. In teaching teachers, I will do my best to help them learn to teach with, as well as without mirrors, to help every student find the stillness, the inner peace and the wisdom inside their hearts.

So, what do you think? Should studios keep their mirrors or are we better off without mirrors in yoga studios?

Namaste

Danielle Zissou