In yoga there are many principles for healthy living. One of these is called “Svadhyaya” – which translates to self-reflection or examination. While the New Year is an excellent time to reflect on the past year and look at ways we want to improve our selves, Svadhyaya should be done regularly, even seasonally or in the natural course of life.

Exercise and health are often at the top of many “resolutions”, and often the first ones broken. While many people have different reasons for breaking resolutions, one might be that the goals were unrealistic. True self-reflection involves being genuine with yourself and not just setting goals that your best friend has made or picking from the Top 10 New Year Resolutions. Most often, our Ego gets in the way of making sensible decisions day to day when your actions are driven by what others are doing rather than what is best for you. If your Ego controls your fitness routine, you may be putting yourself at a higher risk of injury.

When we look to what others are doing in exercise we may put ourselves in positions taking us beyond a safe point of execution no matter what the form of activity. While competition in certain situations can be good, it is not healthy when practiced in every situation or for the wrong reasons. Yoga instruction encourages self-reflection in class and in life so you can practice exercise that is personalized for your body. The practice of yoga does not encourage competition in class because this takes your focus off of your self-awareness.

Real physical and emotional growth takes place when you see yourself as it truly is and improve from there. The perspective totally changes when you are working just to keep up with your neighbor, you may have had a great workout, but what was your baseline? Where did you improve from and where can you move to next?  These same principles are important whether you are walking on the treadmill or taking a Pump class. If you add extra weights to your bar just because the person next to you is, and you really might not be ready, you’re putting yourself at a risk of hurting yourself. When you keep the focus on your personal goals and limitations, you have a consistent point to move forward from.

Here are some tough questions to ask yourself to determine if your ego may be setting you up for injury in exercise:

1. Are you competitive in everyday situations?

Are you living life trying to “keep up with the Jones’”? Do you notice what others have and then get it yourself? Do you keep track of what the other kids are achieving or what activities your friends are doing? Do you volunteer at every opportunity even at your family’s expense? Everyone does this to an extent, but do you use your observations as a primary catalyst for making your own decisions? Who and what are you primarily influenced by? Friends? Advertising? Celebrities? Status?

2. Who are you paying attention to?

If there are mirrors in a class, do you check your clothing or hair during a workout? Are you looking at your neighbor to see how high her steps are? If your attention is always on how high the person next to you is kicking or reaching, you may be losing sight of how your own body is moving. If most of your thoughts are on how your workout clothing is fitting, or what others are wearing, you are losing out on the benefits of training your mind to focus and concentrate on your workout. Of course, exercise for social reasons are a bit different scenario, just make sure you are not talking with a neighbor when an instructor is teaching. This is not only rude, but you may miss important points to keep you safe. It’s best to leave the social time for before and after class as a sign of respect to the teacher and other students. You can also select activities that are less structured, like taking a walk or run with friends, that allow fornatural interaction.

3. Do you always go for the advanced options in a class regardless of how you are feeling?

If your neighbor picks up the pace, do you rise up to keep to their level? Have you thought about getting off the treadmill/weight machine/elliptical trainer but kept going until the person next to you finishes, even though you’re done? Keeping up with your neighbor is risky, unless you are paired with someone of identical fitness ability and body type. Everyone is unique and has different strengths and weaknesses. Listen to your body and adjust your workout to suit your personal level and energy for the day. When you lose sight of yourself, you risk injury if you are trying to push yourself beyond your limits just to match the instructor or another student in class.

4. Is there flexibility in your workout schedule?

Are you afraid of missing a class that your friends might be attending? Exercising is a social activity for many, but are there times when you should have skipped a class (nasty cold or pulled muscle)? Pain is our body’s signal to ease up. When we push through injury pain or exercise beyond our limits we put ourselves in a position of making things worse. Getting to know your body better is really an art. Maybe there are days in your monthly cycle that you have absolutely no energy to exert, and you realize you need to just allow your body to rest. For some, you may know that you just need to get moving during PMS, do some gentle stretches and the fatigue and bloating pass on quickly. This is where Svadhyaya is so important, being familiar with your body. The more you get to know your body, the better you’ll be able to discern when something is not right and you need to back off or modify your routine regardless of what the crowd is doing.

5. What are your goals for working out ?

It might be easy to just ask your friends what they are doing, but the healthiest way to approach your fitness routine is with a clear vision of who you are. Then, what you hope to achieve will be based on your body type, fitness level and personal needs. If your goals to workout are to follow someone else’s cues, then it will be their goals you are trying to meet.

Our Egos influence all of us in one way or another. Your Ego’s focus is on external factors, Svadhyaya begins as an internal perspective. If you are allowing your Ego to influence your decisions on a day to day basis, either in your outlook in life, competitive nature overall or in your motives for keeping fit, you may not make the best decisions for your Self. When you take your attention off of yourself, physically or mentally in a class or while exercising, you increase your chances of injury. When you understand your motives and your body, you can respond safely and effectively to build a healthy and strong body. It might take a bit longer than if you pushed yourself to the point of injury, but you’ll have a greater satisfaction of achieving goals that really work for you.

Whether self-reflection is a new concept to you or not, one easy place to begin is with your posture. Watch for an upcoming article on proper body alignment: essentials for a strong and healthy body that can lessen your potential for injuries.