THE IMPERFECT POSE
I am a recovering perfectionist. Once upon a time and not so long ago, every day was a constant struggle to be the best at whatever I put my mind to. If I couldn’t be the best, I didn’t want to do it. There was simply no point. I was actually proud of my perfectionism – thinking it was what gave me the drive to be successful.
And then I started practicing Yoga. I was fortunate enough to have one-on-one sessions with a private instructor, Kara. Kara is this sweet, patient, giving woman and I am a thunderstorm. I had never been very flexible and trying to perfect those poses seemed damned near impossible. As you can imagine, those Yoga sessions made me seriously frustrated. There were days when I would lash out at sweet, patient, giving Kara, angry at her for making me attempt these insane poses that clearly no normal person could ever actually accomplish - furious that she was setting me up for failure.
Though I wasn’t flexible, I’ve always been strong – sturdy is actually more exact. During every balancing pose, the perfection demon in my brain would scold me over and over, “You better not fall over. It’s ridiculous that this is so hard for you. Just muscle it.” But, you can’t muscle tree-pose. Pigeon was even worse. Through excruciatingly deep pain that seemed to reach into the pit of my soul, the perfection demon would scream, “Just push harder! You’re pathetic and weak. You can’t even get your leg to a 45 degree angle, how will you ever get it to 90 degrees? What’s wrong with you?!” Harsh words, I know. Perfectionism is no fun. I had good days and bad days in my war with Yoga, but one question always surfaced – am I doing this right?
I remember saying to Kara, “I don’t care if it hurts, just tell me if I’m doing it right.” Then one day she blew my mind, “There is no right way. You do the pose the way your body is built to do the pose.”
No right way? Unfathomable! This whole time, I’ve been working my butt off to be the best yogi ever and now I find out there isn’t even a competition!
It’s taken a lot of years for that mindset, no right way, to sink in. It’s not even all the way in yet, but I’m getting there. I still have trouble sometimes when I go to a Yoga class and see all those flexible people – you know, those ones that have no problem with standing split or turning their bridge into wheel. The ones that make Yoga look like dancing through a field of daisies while it usually feels to me like mining for coal. Yoga can definitely feel like a competition then. But that’s why Yoga is a perfect practice in imperfection – when I hear that perfection demon whispering in my ear, I remind myself that the only right way to do Yoga is to do it to the best of my ability. I still suck at tree pose, and that’s ok.
You see, I have to keep refocusing on no right way because my experience with Yoga is a reflection of life. To truly accept ourselves, we must understand that there is no right way to be – there is no perfect formula. Again, I used to be proud to be called a perfectionist, but the reality of it is, perfectionism didn’t help me to be successful. It did just the opposite – it exhausted me and made me feel worthless. I could not try if there was the slightest chance of failure.
Perfectionism is a symptom of self-judgment and unjust comparison to others – these are ways that we show a lack of compassion toward ourselves. We get so wrapped up in how we should be, that we forget to appreciate who we are. It’s easy to get lost in the shoulds in life – I should be thinner, I should get up earlier, I should make more money. But as my therapist says, “Don’t should on yourself.” That lack of compassion depletes us and makes it nearly impossible to be compassionate to others – we cannot give what we do not have.
Whenever I notice that I’m comparing myself to others or beating myself up for not being good enough, I remember my mantra of non-judgment: I am exactly the way I am supposed to be to achieve my purpose. That means I am the right amount of THIN, the right amount of SMART, the right amount of CREATIVE, the right amount of FUNNY for what I am meant to offer the world right now in this moment– even if I don’t know what that offering or purpose is supposed to be.
When we insist on being perfect according to the world’s standards, we don’t allow our own individuality with all our quirks and gifts and yes, even flaws, to shine through. That doesn’t mean that we mustn’t improve ourselves. Self-improvement is growth. Every living thing must continue to grow or it will die. Growth is an act of self-LOVE, not a sentence handed down because we are unworthy. Self-improvement is not a punishment for imperfection. It is a reward – it is the acceptance of a soul that is lovely and vibrant and undeniably needed for the world to turn. The only way to be truly perfect is to be exactly and unabashedly who you are.
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