Practice makes perfect? Ha!! Trying to be perfect made me crazy. Literally. I was in bad shape.
I don’t like the phrase “practice makes perfect.” And lately, I’ve been hearing this phrase a lot -- in yoga class, reading it on blogs, and the other day even my four year-old daughter uttered those very words. Hearing that from such an innocent little person caused me to flashback to my childhood and how I, at a very young age, started on the quest for an unobtainable perfection.
Growing up as a dancer, I tried to obtain the perfect body. How could I be rail-thin, with a graceful neck, short torso, long legs, and fabulous turn out? I tried to achieve the perfect 20 fouette turns, spending hour upon hour repeating movements and steps until they were just right. I tried to acquire the perfect feet. Yes, feet. You don’t even want to know what I did to get better arches.
And from the outside looking in you would think I had nailed it. What I had actually nailed, however, was a massive eating disorder, clinical depression, and a very sad and scared heart. I became so obsessed with me and making me “perfect” that the world had become a very fearful place. I was always worried about what you thought, if you liked me, and if what I was doing was good enough. Forget about what I wanted or thought, let me just twist myself into the image of what I thought you liked. (And how in the world would I even know that?) Sigh. Just thinking about it now exhausts me. So much work.
Most people, in trying to obtain perfection, become tense, stressed out, and just tired. With all of that extreme focus on the external, my ego had become my primary motivator. Now, the strange part was that I had very low self-esteem and no self-love. Yet, the world revolved around me. Ego is a tricky guy. I’ve heard ego described as Edging God Out. I was operating from a very disconnected place, with a big smile plastered on my face so that you would know that everything was great. Just great.
You do this for a long time, year after year, disconnecting more and more each day from any goodness that matters, and soon it catches up with ya. My rail-thin body, straight A’s, and dancing accolades started to turn into obesity, failing out of school, and not being able to leave my apartment to show up for any responsibilities simply because now you knew I wasn’t perfect. Not to mention complete isolation from friends, because no one wanted to be around a hungry bitch.
The truth is that I nearly killed myself at this point. My inability to be perfect left me feeling unworthy of being on this planet.
Somehow a ray of light cracked through the hard shell I had created around myself and I asked for help. I couldn’t do this anymore. Help came pouring in from all over…therapy, books, groups, 12 step programs, meditations, people who said “Let us love you until you can love yourself.” And finally yogaaahhhh.
For the last 15 years, my yoga practice has been a path of healing, acceptance, and perfectly perfect non-perfection. I love my body. Period. No matter what. To get to that point of loving my body, no matter what, took a tremendous amount of retraining my brain to think and believe kind things. Daily mantras, visualizations, journaling, meditations, and what I call “shower yoga” (washing each body part and saying, “Thank you for this amazing beautiful arm, thank you for this amazing beautiful thigh, thank you for this amazing and beautiful belly…”).
And when I noticed a judgmental thought towards myself or even someone walking down the street, I would pause (thank you, Erich Shiffmann!) and visualize light (a.k.a. love) coming from the world, into me or the person I was judging and then that love light going back out into the world.
I started to experience the world as a kind and beautiful place. Wow. Who would have thought? I wasn’t trying to run or control every little thing, and things became more… perfect.
So, daily, I practice metta -- love and kindness -- towards myself, my students, my kids, my husband, and the world. This became an easy thing to do when I experienced through my yoga this universe as the perfect expression of love and kindness. In my asana practice, I don’t practice poses over and over, trying to get them just right. Each pose is different in every moment, depending on how my body is in that moment. In my opinion (look out!), there is no such thing as the “perfect” pose. There is a classic version of that pose, but who cares, if it isn’t safe or connecting you to the greater goodness in the world?
Don’t get me wrong, I love challenging myself and trying fun postures. But, that is not my yoga. Far from it. My yoga (the asana part) is the way I approach those poses with non-judgment and metta. The way I open myself up to the creative and powerful flow of life and try to align my movement with this divinity. The way I breathe deeply and sweetly in those poses. And, the way I thank my body for allowing me to try those poses.
Now, there are moments and days when my perfectionistic tendencies try to sneak back in. It becomes obvious very quickly. I am not in the present and the beauty starts to be sucked out of my day. How sad to be worried about a clean house when two gorgeous kids are running around joyfully loving life.
In my practice, perfection starts to sneak in when I try to do yoga. What a gift, to breathe deeply and choose to let yoga do me instead.
Now I believe practice makes practice. Practice makes progress. Practice makes peace. That is, hopefully it does, if you are connecting with the goodness in the universe and practicing in a health-full way.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.”
― Leonard Cohen