Friend or foe?
Most of us like to work out in a space equipped with large mirrors. They allow us to see our form and to correct our alignment. Yet are these mirrors really our friend, or are they a foe?
See without seeing
In many group classes, it is often not possible to see ourselves in the mirror due to the size of the class. The mirror is therefore an overrated amenity. Even if the class size is small, it is not uncommon for us to "see without seeing." Our minds wander off to a task at work, to the bill we need to pay, or to that errand we need to run. Despite the mirror right in front of us while the instructor earnestly cues and guides, we swing and sway and do our own thing. In this case the reflection gives a false sense of presence and effort, failing to alert us to our forms.
Another pitfall with having the mirror is that we become so engrossed in our own reflections that we ignore the instructor. This can happen when we become experienced and feel we know the movements. We take off on "auto pilot," tune out the music tempo, accelerate and get ahead of the instructor, turning the workout into a jolly race to reach the finishing point, instead of savoring the dynamic stretch journey.
Don't just see, FEEL
Perhaps the mirror is most helpful for beginners, who are still learning about basic positions and forms. To benefit from the mirror, however, we need to marry what we see with how the body feels. Take the" Tai Chi plié" position in Essentrics, for example:
In this position, we place our feet wide apart, turn our legs out from the hip, and then bend the knees. When we see our knees in a plumb line with the ankles in the mirror, we should also notice that we don't feel any load/stress in the knee joints. This is because with this alignment the weight of the torso and upper legs reaches the knees and flow straight to the floor. So while we are stressing the leg muscles and the bones, we aren't stressing the joints. Instead, we are protecting the knees from being overloaded and strengthening them by toning the muscles around.
Indeed, for each position we take we should be able to feel with our body to know if our form is correct. For each movement we do, we should be able to sense and engage the correct muscles. By relying on our internal sensors, the mirror becomes an accessory rather than a necessity. This is important because most of the time when we go about and perform our daily functions, we aren't checking ourselves in the mirror. We simply move. When we tune in to our body sensations, when we remember how it feels when we move or position properly, then we can adjust and correct ourselves more readily at all times.
The mirrorless age-reversing challenge
For those occasions when we work out in facilities without mirrors, we might feel frustrated because the instructor faces us. Instead of copying her/his motions, we must mirror them instead, and not all of us are good at that. Yet this is a valuable cognitive and neuromuscular skill to acquire, a challenge that helps our mind and body to stay active and young!
A friend for all
The mirror can both be a friend and a foe, depending on how we use it. When we learn to rely on all our senses, when we learn to connect with our body and trust how it feels, then that mirror on the wall can be an added friend for all.