“Perfect” as I am? If I were perfect, why would I be here?
You could say I found it a little condescending.
Girl, you know how jacked my half moon is compared to yours! Just call it like it is!
I was still fairly new to yoga, so I became confused. The message was mixed.
Do you want me to do this difficult sequence with a grace, or do you want me to be just the way I am? I don’t think I can do both!
Now, about six years later, I see the point she was trying to make. Yoga is very much about acceptance. It is about being where you are, however you are, and working with it. It took a lot of practice for me to actually understand that process. I’ve heard other teacher’s phrase it this way: “You’re right where you’re supposed to be.”
Baron Baptiste recently wrote the book Perfectly Imperfect. I read it and saw a similar theme coming up—this idea that we are flawed, but our greatest lessons come from those flaws. The singer Grace Vanderwaal just released an album by the same name. More and more songs, stories, and television shows present diversity and the general messiness of being human. I see this as a very positive change. Yoga started as a practice for young boys and men in India, and has evolved into a practice for pretty much anyone. Yes, there are still too many magazines and ads that lead people to believe yoga is meant for the slim, sexy, flexible females of the world. This is a shame because the classes that I have taken at The Light Within, Truly Yoga, Brandywine Yoga, Serenity, Empowered Yoga, Yoga Secrets, Bryan Kest Power Yoga in Santa Monica, and community centers have been so diverse. I love seeing different teachers—men and women of various ages, ethnicities, and body types—teach classes full of unique people.
The competitive side of me strived for perfection through various avenues—dieting, excessive exercise, long work hours, etc. I thought yoga was just a safer way to achieve the same results.
Yoga is supposed to improve us, right? We want to become lean, mean, clean eating chaturanga machines, don’t we?
Nope. A few injuries fixed my wagon. The most healing yoga moments were quiet and visually unimpressive. These were moments in savasana or an awkward, but safely modified, half moon. The chaturangas were great too, but ultimately unnecessary. The funny thing is that once I finally stopped trying to achieve an idea of perfection, and focused on the power of breath and observation during each pose, I did feel healthier all around. I gained some strength, flexibility, and also some much needed weight. I lighted up mentally. My coping skills improved. The outcome was literally better than I had first imagined. The “me” before and the “me” after is still me. Eventually I stopped doing power yoga. It taught me that I needed something more gentle. For that, I am so grateful to those power yoga teachers and the practice. That lovely vinyasa teacher’s comment on perfection let to confusion, which led to inquiry, which allowed me to learn more about the purpose of yoga. I’m glad she said it.
Have you ever taken a class and received mixed messages? As a teacher and student of yoga, I have experienced it on both sides. Students have asked for a vigorous class when they need to be gentle with their bodies. Teachers have asked me to be gentle, then cued what seemed like 800 vinyasas and lunges. I’ve learned that everyone on both sides have the power of choice. Teachers offer what they can, and students do what they can. Both have the responsibility to push and let go at different times. The choice of what to offer and take can be quite difficult! The challenge with diversity is to meet all those different needs. The “perfect” sequence for one individual will most like not serve the whole group. Modifications must be offered and used. Adjustments and safe alignment is essential, but the students need space to discover their range of motion. Students can choose to practice consistently at home, or try out new classes and sequences. Teachers are not perfect either, and that is also important to accept.
Alison Donely taught me that everyone should look a little different in the pose. Sometimes she asks her students to close their eyes and raise their arms. When the students open their eyes, they see that everyone’s version of “raise your arms” is different. “This is yoga,” she says each time. That is what really turned the light bulb on for me. Descriptions like “perfect,” “imperfect,” “special,” “unique,” etc. are encouraging, but yoga is an action taking us to a state of mind. As breath, mind, and body join (yuj), we come closer to experiencing the union, the true meaning of yoga.
So let’s share an imperfect practice together, shall we?