Ever walked into class and thought something like this:
"Oh man, these people are way more advanced than I am, I'm totally in the wrong place"
"My butt is way bigger than that girl's, I can't possibly do this"
"What is she doing with that alignment? Obviously my training has been better than hers"
"Dang! there's no way I could ever do what that person is doing"
"How on Earth did his hips get so open? mine are like locked in place but they should look like that."
... well, you get the picture.
One of the blessings and challenges of going to public class is that it's a class, with the public. As in, you're not there alone, anyone could walk through the door and set up his or her mat beside yours. Even in leveled classes there's bound to be someone who could only make it at that time slot and so beginners find their way into advanced classes, and advanced students need a break and fill up beginner classes.
Being with other people while you move through your practice truly can be a challenge until you train your mind to leave it alone. While it is delightful to learn from and appreciate those around you, it is quite another to spend the entire time in comparison mode. Comparison never helped anybody along the path.
Truth is, we are born different from each other. We live our lives in different ways, we practice our yoga in our own unique bodies and we must approach group class practice with a humility and patience for our own limitations and achievements in mind. Comparison tears down the cohesiveness of the class, and blocks the ability to focus honestly on your own experience in that moment.
Stopping from comparing is harder said than done. I think for me I spent a lot of time reminding myself to go back into my own practice whenever I was drawn out -- and still I get caught up at times. It undermines my efforts at the asana and present moment awareness. I usually end up feeling crummy instead of better. I also found a little bit of a shift when I started reminding myself that I will feel and be different in every class, just like the students around me. And that there will always be poses that come easily to me, and others that are more challenging -- just like everybody else.
The way I see it, comparing with someone else just sets up a 'Me-Them' mentality rather than remembering 'We're all in this together'. And it sets up or perpetuates Better Than/Worse Than, higher/lower, thinking. None of these are paradigms I personally want to take forward into my family or the greater world.
Instead I hope to forward the idea that we are all unique. Uniqueness is a positive rather than a negative and one that does not make us in anyway inherently more or less important or special. Each of us has something amazing to offer, and something more to learn. If we can start to perpetuate that kind of thinking rather than being in constant comparison mode, I think our world will be a much better place. And yoga in public could become much more enjoyable!