What the art of yoga taught me about overcoming judgemental thoughts - and why this is important for artists.


Written by: Angie Noll

“Be curious, not judgemental.”

Walt Whitman

Before class

This morning, as I walked into yoga class and saw the teacher, my first thought was “That’s not a yoga teacher”. Feeling both thinner and superior to the woman at the front of the class, I wondered if I could sneak out before class started and come back later. When a real yoga teacher will be taking the class.

Just then, the impostor closed the doors. “Come standing at the front of your mat, big toes touching, in Samasthitihi.”

Too late. I’d missed my chance to escape. With a sigh of resignation, I stepped up to the front of my mat…

In retrospect

This morning, as I walked into yoga class and saw the teacher, I couldn't have known yet that I had just walked into the class of a most profound woman. She certainly didn’t look the picture of a typical yoga teacher (whatever that means for you.) It’s a good thing that looks aren’t everything. Because it turned out there was a whole lot more to this woman than meets the eye.

Oblivious to the way my mind and heart was about to be stimulated, opened and entertained, I unrolled my mat… and for the next sixty minutes found myself infused with inspiration by a person who does nothing more than be herself.

Bravely, fearlessly and, most importantly, unashamedly.

A simple practice become less judgemental

I wish I could say I entered yoga class with my retrospective attitude, but sadly, I didn’t. I judged the teacher as incapable the instant I saw her, based on her physical appearance.

In yoga, we practice maintaining a particular gaze, drishti, during each posture. Our eyes should be focused in a certain direction, on a spot of our choosing, but the gaze must remain soft.

Anyone can practice this by simply sitting on the mat (or anywhere else for that matter), and finding something to look at. We fix the gaze at this particular spot, and then practice looking at it without judging it. It just is whatever it is.

The reason this is so challenging is because the untrained mind automatically goes beyond simply naming something. Instead of seeing just a spot we immediately open the door to quality and value judgements. A simple spot on the floor can bring up many thoughts of judgement.

“What is that? It’s yuck.”

“Is it a squashed bug?”

“That’s dirt from someone’s shoe. Who is wearing their shoes into yoga class anyway? I bet it’s that person over there…”

And so we can get caught up in the endless, unchecked chatter of the mind, just because we opened the door to a judgement, a value of “good spot” or “bad spot”.

We are not powerless over our judgemental thoughts

“I am a very judgemental person. Of myself and other people. I recognise it’s a great fault, but I have no power over that.”

Richard E. Grant

If a simple spot on the floor can lure us into thinking all kinds of unbridled thoughts, imagine what a more provocative subject could do – say, a yoga teacher who doesn’t look like a cover model for Yoga International.

But if we practice not judging small, insignificant things like spots, we can become better at not judging bigger, more important things like people. Or our art.

Or ourselves.

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