Once during an advanced yoga class, I was asked to demonstrate a pose in front of a whole group of students (many of whom were teachers). I stepped to the center of the room. Everyone stood around me. I was filled with excitement (and yep, the pride was there too. After all, the teacher was known to be quite demanding, and here he was, asking me to demonstrate).
My Perfectionist Inner Critic took the mike: OK, this is your time to shine. You gotta show the group EVERYTHING you know about this pose. This teacher will be be SO proud of you.
In utter silence, the group watched. I moved elegantly into the revolved standing pose. I made a mental note of all the physical adjustments I had ever learned. I checked every single part of my body and adjusted here and there. I put in all the effort I could into making everything just right. I broke a sweat in seconds. At the point where I felt I had “done it just right” I peeked at the teacher, hoping he would smile approvingly. After a couple seconds in the pose, I gracefully moved out of the pose, catching my breath, and proud of my hard work.
- photo credits: peachtreeyoga
The teacher thanked me. Then he looked at the students and said, you noticed how her back leg was bent? That’s the tendency in this pose. When we’re too much in our head, we tend to forget the back of the body. This is ok at the beginning, but now it’s time to really understand the pose by letting the mind go deeper. Let’s practice this pose all together again.
A huge balloon had just deflated inside of me. I expected congratulating, I expected a golden star for the fact that I had contributed to the group and done a great pose. But clearly I hadn’t really arrived at any perfect finish line.
I went back to my place and followed the teacher’s instructions along with the rest of the group. “Now, let your attention release from the brain, into the body. Straighten the back leg. However, don’t let the mind get in the way by telling you “I’ve done it!” Let the back leg continue to straighten.”
As I effortfully worked to straighten the back leg and not let it bend for its life, I also noticed the gripping in my jaw, the tightness in the back of my neck, my constricted breath. Maybe the pose looked much better than it did before, but this was not how I wanted to practice.
I took a breath. I softened my jaw and the grip in my face. Interestingly, by letting go of the unnecessary gripping and urge to get it “just right”, there came a release that allowed me to straighten the leg almost effortlessly. Inhalation and exhalation both became easeful. My mind relaxed. It was like being in “the zone”, like a runner submerged in the simple enjoyment of the run.
As I kept practicing that pose and the poses that followed in class, I realized I didn’t want to rush anything and “get it done”. I wasn’t doing this to get somewhere, or for anybody else’s approval. I didn’t need the teacher to clap and congratulate me for how wonderful I was doing the pose. Actually it didn’t really matter how perfect it looked on the outside. I was there for the practice itself; the love of the practice itself. The yoga was not about arriving somewhere, or achieving anything, but about being fully present with where I was, accepting who I was — imperfections included.
After class I felt humbled, realizing how much more there was for me to learn. Not having done that pose perfectly in front of everyone, had been a blessing in disguise. It had granted me a beginner’s mind. I left the studio that day with a feeling of lightness, and it seemed my whole being (including my dear inner critic) laughed with its new mantra:
“Not perfect? No problem!”