Yoga and the Release of Perfection

Heather Backbend Asana

I am a reformed perfectionist.  Yoga helped me get there.

I used to worry incessantly about the details.  I would get wrapped up in ensuring the final product or event or…anything, was done to my exacting standards.  At the time, I didn’t understand the impact my perfectionist tendencies were having both on myself and on others in my life.

In regards to myself, insomnia was a constant companion.  In fact, in my quest for perfection in college, I exhausted myself to the point where, one frosty winter morning following my 4 AM – 6 AM on-air shift at our college radio station, I returned to my dorm room and collapsed halfway into my space and halfway into the hallway.  Needless to say, some of the other residents on my floor were wondering what was up with the girl laying on the floor snoring!  I would rehearse dance pieces over and over again, never feeling as though I really put forward a performance that met my personal expectation.  I abused myself with food and my inner monologue, constantly pushing myself further and further until one day in my early 20s, I became so ill, I literally could not walk and instead dragged myself across my apartment floor…which is where my roommate found me and immediately demanded that I go into therapy (note:  I did just that and am forever grateful to my friend who used some tough love in the moment I needed it the most).

As for others, my friends and family watched from the sidelines as I demanded more and more from my body, soul, and mind.  In turn, I demanded more from them as well – although I wasn’t aware of it at the time.  In order to not send me into a fluster, they entertained my exacting standards for everything in life.  I remember setting up for a party I was hosting in my space one summer.  My now-husband had never, up until that point, experienced my need to ensure everything was perfect for the impending arrival of guests and stood in wonder (and, without doubt, some annoyance) at the agitated flurry I was making when re-arranging the way he set up the plates and silverware on the table (note:  I am grateful he chose to stick with me after witnessing my perfectionist edge…he’s been a witness to this journey of letting go).

My need for perfection lessened, but still persisted, with the help of therapy and self-reflection.  I didn’t want to live in the space of demand constantly.  It was becoming more and more exhausting keeping up with the demands I kept putting in front of myself.

There was one place of respite…my yoga mat.  There, anything and everything could happen.  Toppled over in a pose?  No problem…just try again!  Unable to get your leg behind your head?  Meh, who cares?!  Handstands freaking you out?  No need to push myself into something my body and system aren’t ready for.

In short, I was learning the art of the “perfectly-not-perfect.”

My release of perfection has been slow, but yoga has been instrumental in showing me that the perfection I sought was simply an illusion and, more importantly, a distraction.  If I could wrap myself in the cloak of striving for perfection, I could avoid the harder work of changing what made me unhappy.  I could avoid the tough conversations.  I could subvert my anxiety and self-consciousness by distracting myself with the hard work being a perfectionist entails.  I could avoid…myself.

Yoga taught me there isn’t perfection to strive for…only the perfect that already exists NOW.  Being in the NOW means meeting yourself fully and completely, just as you are.  My process of meeting myself has taken time, but I’ve fallen in love with the person I am – because she is “perfectly-not-perfect!”

When I meditate and am fully embodied in the present moment, there is nothing else to consider, nothing else to do, no striving, no working toward something.  There is only what is.  Once we realize that every moment on the mat is this series of “nothing else to consider, nothing else to do, no striving, no working toward something” we are suddenly free to experience everything and realize that the perfect is right here with us RIGHT NOW.

I’ll admit that I get frustrated when I hear people talking about yoga as though it is a series of goals to be accomplished.  As if there is some end game to our practice once we achieve a posture.  In reality, there is beauty in the never-ending process that our practice provides because it has the ability to teach us about our divinity and the perfect that exists in us just as we are – regardless of if we ever do full Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose – splits), or not.  It is the perfection in every moment of getting there…the beauty of BEing in that process…that is really what our practice can be about celebrating.

Celebrate your perfection, just as you are.  Celebrate the perfection in others, just as they are.  There is nothing else we need to do in that regard.  When honouring our perfection in this very moment, we (and those around us) are suddenly free of expectation, free of the to-do list, and free of the disappointment that comes with striving for something that can never be attained (because it never existed in the first place).

You might even fall in love with your “perfectly-not-perfect” self.

What I See On The Mat

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I see your good days and your bad ones.

I see your laughter and tears, your strengths and your fears.

I see your light and your dark.

I see your comparisons to others and your belief in yourself.

I see your doubts and your assuredness.

I see your transformation and the places where you may feel stuck.

I see your happiness and sadness, your joy and your heartache.

I see your ability to keep going and your knowledge of when it is time to rest.

I see you supporting and encouraging others, and your struggle to support and encourage yourself.

I see you trying something new and your comfort in those things that are familiar.

I see your body, soul, mind, and heart.

I see your moments of brave.

I see you.

 

 

And you…are perfect, beautiful, strong, smart, and loved.  Even in those moments when you may not feel that way…especially in those moments.

If you ever need to be reminded of that, just let me know and I’ll be sure to tell you.

Love? Kindness? Compassion?

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As someone who lives amid yogi circles, the words lovekindness and compassion get used a lot.

A lot, a lot.

However, I’m finding more and more that we use these words when talking about how we treat others…and maybe not so much when we talk about how we treat ourselves.

Let’s break it down for a moment with some definitions, compliments of Merriam-Webster Online.

Love:  a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person

Kindness:  the quality or state of being kind (hm…okay, Merriam-Webster.  What does it mean to be kind?)

Kind:  having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others : wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others

Compassion:  a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.

My question is…how do we turn the mirror on ourselves?  How do I become the person that I have strong affection for?  How do I become the person that I want to help and bring happiness to?  How do I become the person I want to help when I am sick, hungry or in trouble?

I think it is pretty easy for those of us in yogic circles to talk about love, kindness and compassion.  I believe it becomes even more significant when we can share how we turn these things in on ourselves.  That we love ourselves unconditionally.  That we are kind to our bodies, spirits and minds.  That we take care of ourselves when we aren’t feeling one hundred percent.

Turning it around takes courage.  It takes strength.

That courage and strength to put ourselves first is immense and should not be underestimated.  So many people have been conditioned to put their own selves on hold for others.  By taking time to be loving, kind and compassionate toward ourselves, we become stronger for those who need us to be loving, kind and compassionate toward them.

Be courageous.  Be strong.

Be loving.  Be kind.  Be compassionate.

For YOU.  To YOU.

Namaste, Heather

Smile and…Just Breathe

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I returned last night from a two-and-a-half week sprint through the United States to visit family and friends.  My travels took me to Illinois, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Georgia, Washington D.C. and then home to Canada again.  It was such an amazing time and a great reminder of the support system I have.

When we make big leaps in our lives, it is always good to know you have people on your side!  I am so incredibly blessed to have family and friends who care and support me…who never questioned my decision to leave my job and become a yoga instructor.

They are there to remind me, particularly during my times of panic about this decision, that all I need to do is just smile and breathe.  That it will all work out the way it is supposed to.

And, isn’t it true?

Smiling and breathing sure is nice.  I think I’ll try it more often!

Loving Oneself and Ahisma

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I am currently transfixed by the Yamas.  Five “ethical standards” through which we can live our lives in better and more fulfilling ways.  By realizing these Yamas, we have the ability to treat ourselves and others with the respect we all deserve, and subsequently prepare ourselves for our Asana practice on the mat.

The first Yama is Ahisma.  Ahisma, very simply translated, means “nonviolence.”  Now, not only does this mean nonviolence toward other living, sentient beings.  In my mind, it also means nonviolence towards oneself.  All these posts about “loving yourself” are attempting to get at just that.

Think about friends or family who have gone through difficult times in their lives.  Oftentimes, I hear people struggle through challenging moments in their lives by engaging in negative self-talk.  Talk that situates blame for being in the current position squarely on the shoulders of the person doing the talking.  I find that in these challenging moments, it is of the utmost importance to practice the greatest and most fierce acts of self-love in order to fully express what we need and when we need it.  If you are struggling and feeling alone and a hug from someone would make you feel better, is it not easier to ask for the hug rather than berate yourself for needing that hug in the first place?  I think so!

Ahisma is not just negative self-talk.  It can also mean engaging in negative behaviours we use to compensate for the negativity we are feeling inside.  By not treating ourselves with love mentally, physically and emotionally, we are not setting ourselves up to better serve others mentally, physically and emotionally.  Not only that, by neglecting or punishing ourselves, we prohibit our abilities to practice Ahisma to others in our lives.

How do you practice Ahisma when it comes to yourself?  To others?  How do you connect this Yama to your practice on the mat?

Namaste, Heather

Today

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“Let today be the day you love yourself enough to no longer just dream of a better life; let it be the day you act upon it.”  ~ Steve Maraboli

Letting Go…Part Two

HermanHesse

Letting go.  So…I’m working on that.

This post is a follow-up to my last one about letting go of things that stand in our way…things like negative self-talk.

She crept onto my mat again last night in class…that little voice telling me that I am crazy for choosing this path of becoming a yoga instructor, that I can’t REALLY do yoga and that I should just go back to the way things were.  It was prompted by my losing balance in a low-lunge twisting pose that consistently challenges me to be in the present.

In one brief second, I wavered from the present.  I let my doubts get in the way.  I became disconnected from my body and mind’s reality in that moment and it impacted not only the pose, but also how my mind was perceiving the situation.

Negative self-talk is a habit we form after minutes, days, months and years of doing the same thing in response to something else.    Habits, and our ability to break them, are explained beautifully in the book “How Yoga Works” by Geshe Michael Roach and Christine McNally.

“And that’s because of the way they are passed down from one generation to the other.  I mean, most of our viewpoints…are not something that we in any way came up with on our own.  Almost everything we do, and almost everything we believe in, we do or believe in for one reason, and for one reason only:  it is what our parents taught us; it is what we learned from an older brother or sister; it is what the teachers in the school said when we were very small; it is — it is what everyone else does.  It is what everyone else believes.  AND THEY ARE ONLY DOING OR BELIEVING IN IT BECAUSE SOMEONE ELSE DID BEFORE THEM, and for no better reason.”

Now, I’m not saying that my parents, or sister, friends or teachers have ever led me to negative self-talk.  What I am saying is that we are surrounded by images, sounds and messages that create a standard by which we believe we are supposed to live.  I also think we are living in and developing cultures where negative self-talk is an acceptable (and almost encouraged) practice.  This whole idea that others recognize – and seem to accept – that we are all harder on ourselves than anyone else ever could be – it just doesn’t seem to work for me.

So, I’m supposed to be hard on myself and feel like I’m not measuring up?  Hm.  I don’t know about that anymore.

I do believe in self-improvement.  I do believe in self-assessment and self-critique.  However, I do believe that these things can occur in gentle and constructive ways.  Ways that allow us freedom to flex and fail and pick ourselves up again.  Ways that allow us to breathe and give ourselves a break when we need it without apology.  Ways that enable us to love ourselves so we can love others.

Here’s my new mantra:  I am enough.  Just the way I am.  I deserve all good things that come to me.

Namaste, Heather

Letting Go

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All of us have our demons.  They are the negative things from our past that haunt us in the present and make it hard for us to appreciate our beautiful, wonderful selves.  Last night in my yoga class, the focus was on letting go of negative self-talk and our ability to put up barriers where none may exist in the first place.

Taking risks is challenging whether it be moving somewhere new, saying “I love you” to someone else for the first time or trying out a new yoga pose.  What makes taking these risks even harder is when we put ourselves down before we even have a chance of seeing if we are successful.

I realize I do this in various aspects of my life.  I will say or do things that prohibit me from my full expression as a unique and talented individual.  So, this week, inspired by my class last evening, will be the week of personal affirmation and letting go of negative self-talk.

Join me, won’t you?

Namaste, Heather