Imposter syndrome is when we doubt our abilities and fear being found out. You might dismiss evidence of you fitting in as ‘not real’ or feel guilty when successful. Some research shows 70% of people have experienced it and more women than men. With the rise of social media and working online this may rise again as we compare ourselves not only to our peers but the whole world.
So how are yoga and imposter syndrome linked?
Yoga is a mind body practise aimed at bringing better harmony and peace. While a beautiful discipline it is also synonymous with looking wonderful and the ‘living your best life’ philosophy.
Don’t let it define you
It is important to notice when you tell yourself you don’t meet the standards or aren’t good enough. It is just as important when you notice this to hear it and gently turn away from this thought pattern. Buying into your imposter syndrome will stop you from going to yoga or enjoying it.
Comparing yourself to other yogis
Being in class with the flexible beautiful people is enough to set anyone’s stuff off. This can really get in the way of doing yoga. There is the yoga of assuming a body position, which is not what I term as yoga – this has no difference to gymnastics. The become yoga, for me it has to become mindful and breath cantered. If you are standing in a supermarket queue, very mindful of your body sensations, holding your bags and focused on your breathing, is this yoga? I would say yes, as yoga is qualitative and the awareness or mind space is integral. You might be in a yoga class, wearing your branded leggings, a mantra tshirt, body lithe and gently toned with your legs wrapped into lotus pose while doing a shoulder stand…. And to me you could still not be doing yoga. Comparing yourself to others is the death of true yoga so go lightly.
The role of judgement in yoga is refined. How can you get deeper into an experience is you shy away from feeling? For me yoga is about coming more into my body, listening to my feet, the sensation in my thighs, how my bell responds and my breathing changes. To listen carefully you could describe as a judgement but it is subtley different. Here are 2 options, basically saying the same thing but framed differently.
- My legs aren’t strong enough, I’m not flexible, I’m not good at this, My body is too fragile
- My legs feel shakey, weak. I can’t move my spine much here, My body feels vulnerable
It is good for me to notice how I, and particularl body parts, feel. This helps me to connect more deeply and acknowledge my present. To spend time judging yourself is demoralising and makes you more goal focused, which isn’t as helpful for yoga.
The perfect pose
This is perfect pose, Siddhasana. Perfect pose is the perfect place to challenge yourself to find and hear your inner voices. Your knees probably won’t rest on the floor, your feet probably won’t neatly line up, your lower back probably won’t lengthen and lift and your mind will probably find itself filled with thoughts of mild to severe discomfort and how you’re getting it wrong. So now try to do a yogic Siddhasana, find ease in your body, find f=comfort, allow your legs and feet to find something approximating the pose. Here comes the yoga: settle into your breath, and allow your mind to settle into your body.
Teaching others yoga is a wonderful way to bring up your stuff. It brings up many expectations, now people may think you’re one of the beautiful flexible people. Your students might think you’re always calm and sanguine. They may think you have the answers to everything or presume you are wise. The truth is you that you are all these things, but not 100% of the time. Teaching yoga can lead you to thinking you’re never good enough, and are just about to be found out as a ‘partly broken, sometimes downright grumpy, shambling non-yogi’. What if you hurt your ankle? Have you failed as a yoga teacher as on some level you have hurt yourself and failed to succeed at ‘ahmisa’? If you put on weight, loose weight, get bad skin, shout at the guy who swerves his car at yours, swear at the tv when bad news comes… have your proved yourself to be an imposter? I think a healthy dose of loving kindness is vital in these real life moments. You’re supposed to muck up. You’re human. If you’re into full on yoga philosophy, then if you are alive then you’ve got some stuff to work on. This is just your stuff and all a valid part of the journey to Samadhi and ultimate liberation. So take a chill pill, enjoy being rather human, or as a dear friend would say ‘fucked up and beautiful’.
The perfect prayer
Yoga is so easy to get caught up in perfection and fuelling imposter syndrome that there is an ancient prayer devoted to dealing with our mind stuff. I like it as it addresses perfectionism head on, and blasts it right out the water:
This is perfect that is perfect
Om Purnamadah Purnamidam
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih
This is perfect
That is perfect
Take perfect from perfect
And you’re left with perfect
Om Peace, Peace, Peace
What you give to yourself you give to others
There is something very beautiful about owning your mind, body, life stuff and being kind to yourself as you undo your thought and body patterns at the speed that it happens. This is the path of yoga and self-compassion. For any of you still sitting on the fence and thinking about giving yourself a good jab in the ribs, rest a while. You can’t give what you don’t have. What we give to ourselves we cannot fail to give to others. It’s a beautiful truth. To look after others you need to look after yourself.