If you are a perfectionist and have attempted taking up yoga, you might have run into a road block just like I have. My original idea was, of course, to learn how to let go, how to just be in the present moment, to accept reality exactly as it is. That’s what perfectionists need to learn and what yoga promises (besides the perfect body). This is until you find out that perfectionism is also precisely what stands in the way of escaping from perfectionism through yoga.
Let me explain.
My initial impulse was a good one, I think. I heard lots of people talk about the benefits of yoga: peace of mind, feeling grounded, being at one with yourself and your surroundings. So, being a perfect perfectionist, I wanted to learn more. I watched lots of videos, read up on poses and immersed myself in the philosophy of yoga. I was hooked. I had also stumbled upon a range of examples of what yoga ideally looks like. Like Dany Sá.
Oh, I want to be able to do this!
I started looking for yoga videos to teach me how. And being a perfect perfectionist I’d want to practice regularly, of course. So I ended up settling for a 30 day challenge. And of course, each daily practice would last about 30 minutes or so. Sure, I would make the time after an exhausting day’s work!
I had just established my latest self-improvement plan.
I managed to stick to it the first day, though a little unease started creeping in already. First, it was a rather long session. Second, the poses the trainer proposed didn’t feel quite right. Too fast, too slow, couldn’t really touch my toes yet. My back hurt from cobra. I forgot to breathe. Damn. Frustration sept in.
I did, of course, stick to the challenge for another day or two. I wouldn’t carve in to a little discomfort so easily, would I? So I went against my gut. I thought that if I just stuck to it, I would eventually look as graceful and toned and perfect on the mat as Dany Sá (never mind that she’s been practicing yoga for 20 years).
On day three I cracked. The teacher was great, she even encouraged her virtual students to listen to what their body was telling them, to stay in poses that felt good rather than following her lead mindlessly. But there were just so many poses I didn’t like, or couldn’t do. So I just gave up and stayed in extended child’s pose while she was going ahead with warrior I and II, plank, cats and dogs.
And for the first time I started feeling at peace. Just a teeny, tiny bit. It was lovely to just curl up in child’s pose. I loved the stretch in my back. The sensation of protection and silence that flooded up on the inside. I stayed in child’s pose for the rest of the 30 minute session. And felt wonderful afterwards.
It’s the first time I actually experienced yoga.
That’s when I decided to drop out of the challenge. The teacher had done a perfect job, not of teaching me poses but of honoring my body, of listening to what it told me about what I truly needed. It turned out I didn’t need perfect alignment, challenging bends, or advanced versions of the Ujjayi breath. All I needed, for now, was a little rest from perfectionism and self-improvement. I needed a pose that would allow me to come to my senses, to turn inwards, to use my back as protective shield against the turmoil of life – and my urge to do everything perfectly.
Today, I did the opposite of what I would usually do. I didn’t make a plan. I didn’t set a time. I didn’t look for a yoga series to practice. I just put on a calming root chakra meditation, given that I had recently discovered that my root chakra was under-active.
And I started my first free-style yoga session, letting my body be my teacher. Nothing else.