True story: When I first started practicing yoga, it took me months to work up the courage to go to a yoga studio. I started my yoga journey with DVDs (okay, if I'm being honest, I started with a VHS tape). For me a trip to the local yoga studio felt like going to another country -- a whole other language was being spoken (I didn't even realize that Sanskrit even existed at that point), the culture and its mores seemed foreign to me (When do I take off my shoes? What's with the altar in the corner of the room? How far am I supposed to position my mat from my neighbor? Do I need to maintain silence or can I say hi to the person on the mat next to me? Is that incense I smell? And later when I would attend a Kundalini class: why is everyone wearing all white??), and it felt very...not familiar. I was uncomfortable. I didn't think I'd be able to keep up (my first class was a fairly vigorous flow). I worried that I didn't know how to execute all of the postures. I worried that I'd make some huge yoga faux pas thereby insulting the teacher, my fellow students and ancient yogis everywhere.
Ah, youth. Back then I liked to know what to expect (and to know what was expected of me) before diving in. I chuckle at this now because so much have changed. Sure, sometimes I still like to know what to expect beforehand but usually I dive right on in and enjoy the mystery. After all, life is one big mystery, yeah?
I think acceptance also has a lot to do with it. I spent years being the good little yoga student and the nice girl -- always working to be "the best" me, to fit seemlessly into any situation I found myself in. I gave all that up (this was more of a process as opposed to an overnight presto changeo sort of thing) and now I just show up as I am. Rather than everything being so neat and tidy because I'm so agreeable, I make a mess. I've told the truth when it would be easier to hide. A few weeks ago, I was working with a client in Tree Pose. I couldn't seem to keep my balance that day and continued to fall out of the pose. Back before the messy me emerged, I would have been embarrassed thinking that as the teacher I need to be "perfect."
I used to go to great lengths to perfect my postures on the mat. I forced and pushed and practiced until I looked good. I didn't feel all that great but, yes, my poses looked good. You could have been said the same about my life, at the time. Appearances can be deceiving, that is for sure.
I started the perfection detox the day I gave up Headstand. Up until that point, it was one of my favorite postures, and I spent 5 minutes in it on a daily basis. I had worked for a while perfecting coming up into Headstand, working on balance and core strength until it looked graceful rather than a jerky movement. I wouldn't even consider variations and/or modifications. Then I began studying the classic versions of yoga postures and dove deeper into anatomy and realized that I was forcing my body into a pose that it wasn't really fit to be in. I realized that if I kept it up, I would most likely injure my neck. I chose to honor my body and Viparita Karani became my new best friend.
I had to let go of a lot in order to ditch Headstand. I had to let go of the story I had told myself about what type of yoga practitioner I was (in terms of skill level), about what a yoga teacher "should" be able to do, about the flexibility and strength of my body. I had to get honest with myself. I had to challenge some of my long held belief about yoga and my relationship to it (and my body).
These days my life is messy on and off the mat. And by messy, I mean real, authentic, far from perfection. No, it sure doesn't look like what it used to, but it's happier and it's a better fit for me. Perfection has gone the way of Headstand.