Can We Love Ourselves Enough To Celebrate Progress Over Perfection?

We are all doing our best to flow through life’s challenges as we work together during this crazy time in our lives. Yoga helps me stay calm and focused as I navigate through stressful situations all around me. And sometimes it surprises me with important life lessons when I least expect it.  

During a recent outdoor Power Yoga session, I was feeling triumphant over the fact that I had found the perfect spot in the park for practice. As I lay out my mat in a spot that wasn’t as lumpy as some other spots in the park, I thought, “Wow! I finally have found the perfect spot for practice! I won’t have to worry about one side being higher than the other during Tree Pose or almost falling downhill in Downward-facing Dog! I can manage my flow and balance much better here!”  

I was feeling proud of myself, when all of a sudden, I was thrown a curve ball as my instructor challenged us to incorporate a new pose. There went my proud moment of finding the perfect flat spot in the park! As he explained how to fall into low plank from standing without breaking our wrists (yes, you read that right), I suddenly felt humbled. With a slight lump in my throat and my stomach churning, I started to panic. This was not an easy transitional pose and it would be very easy to hurt myself. I am not the most graceful, but I do know how to fall down!  

I began to inhale and exhale deeply to reduce my anxiety. After a few breaths and shaking out my arms and legs, I found myself focusing on what others might think of me. What if I couldn’t do the pose? Or what if I looked awkward doing it? I reasoned with myself–everyone else would look awkward as well and some people might not try it at all.  

I decided I would try my best. I started out slow and low to the ground, bending deeply before landing in low plank. I was in shock at how it didn’t seem bad at all, and I did it with control during my first attempt. I decided to try it again standing up a little higher and landing on my hands. I looked down and realized my hands were still attached to my body. It worked! I kept trying–starting out a little higher each time until I was almost at full standing pose before dropping down into low plank. After a few minutes of trying this transitional drop into low plank, we were able to move on through our flow and I finished with my body parts still intact.  

This was a huge teaching moment for me. I often won’t attempt to do scary, challenging poses because I’m afraid they will hurt me, or I will look awkward. I fret that it might take me years to accomplish a challenging pose and maybe people will look at me as if I’m not accomplished enough to be a yoga instructor. I worry that I won’t be perfect. But I realized in that moment that perfection was not the goal. Maybe progress was all I was aiming for.  

Ironically, I’m reading Real Love by Sharon Salzberg this month. I say it’s ironic, because in it, she explains how the idea of perfection is the opposite of self-love. Yoga teaches us to take risks and to believe in ourselves and to trust our bodies. But perfection is never taught in yoga, nor has it ever been a part of its teachings. Society has taught us to aim for perfection to appear as if we live perfect lives.  

As we celebrate National Yoga Month in September, don’t lose sight of the wholistic approach of yoga. We don’t just celebrate yoga for its physical benefits, but for the mindful connections we make along the way—the progress. This is one of the many reasons why yoga has been practiced for thousands of years. Let’s celebrate National Yoga Month together, knowing that everyone is on their own journey, at their own pace, and for their own reasons.  

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