I’ll be the first one to admit it- I’m a perfectionist. I always have been, and I’m almost certain that almost everyone is, too. No matter how often we hear that “nobody’s perfect” and we should all just try our best, there’s that little voice in the back of our head that wants us to get everything right and have a perfect life and never make a mistake.
For some people, though, these perfectionistic tendencies appear throughout all facets of their lives because it’s so engrained in who they are. And one of the places I see it most is on the mat.
I can’t tell you how many times a new student walks into the studio, never having done yoga before, and struggles through every vinyasa until they’re holding their breath and looking way more frustrated than you should in a yoga class. And no matter how many times the teacher reminds the class that rest is not only an option, but suggested and admirable, the student will bust through another chaturanga with some questionable form, feel beaten up after class, and decide yoga just “isn’t for them”.
It brings me back to my first days on the mat, when I felt compelled to do everything. Every low push-up, every jump through, every variation. I felt like if I didn’t take it “as far as I could go”, I wouldn’t be doing yoga at all. I so desperately wanted to “do yoga” that I completely ignored the real yoga- my breath.
You could walk into the studio, sit right down, and do nothing but conciously breathe for an hour and still consider it a yoga practice. But I didn’t know or care about that- I wanted to do cool stuff. I wanted to prove my abilities and worth by doing things my body wasn’t ready for, and feeling disappointed when I simply couldn’t do it all.
I also fell right into the “right way trap”. It happens to everyone in new situations- you get obsessed with doing everything “the right way” that you ignore how you’re feeling in the present moment. My first class was a blur of excitement and music and heat (that I was so not expecting, considering my long sleeve shirt and pants), but mostly hyper awareness of everyone around me.
Am I doing this right? Is my stance too wide? How deep do I sit in chair pose? Why do they keep saying vinyasa? What the heck is that?
I was certain that everyone around me was judging my every move, as though the person next to me would look over and think to themselves, “Who does she think she is, coming in here and doing everything wrong?” But here’s a secret- the people in yoga studios don’t care the slightest bit about what’s going on on the mat next to them. You don’t go to yoga to judge others, you go to yoga to draw your focus inwards and reconnect with yourself.
I think it’s this fear of judgement that draws people to our Yoga 101 workshops- they’re afraid of going into a class blind and being lost or confused. I wish I could tell them that no matter how familiar they become with the postures and basics, they’ll still fumble around they’re mat for a month or two until they find their groove. It happens to everyone, and it’s part of the expedience.
A big focus in that workshop is finding the right shape for your body. We go over textbook alignment and explore many variations and modifications before helping students find what suits their body best. But even after we explain that everyone in the room with look different, we still get that dreaded question: “Yeah, but what’s the right way?”
It could come from a fear of injury, or a desire to learn about the historical origins of yoga, but I think it most often stems from perfectionism. Regardless of how we feel on the mat, we still want to do it “the right way”; because then we will be real yogis and burst into flames in a flurry of fiery enlightenment, right?
There’s no “right and wrong” in yoga, only “safe and unsafe”.
If we see a student dipping too low on their chaturangas and risking a shoulder injury, or over stressing their knees in a warrior, we’ll tell them because they’re at risk of hurting themselves. But if we see someone taking a different arm variation or, heaven forbid, resting in child’s pose during the flow, we’re not going to walk over and tell them they’re not doing it right. What matters most is that they’re connecting with their body on a level that our cues can’t give them.
Don’t let perfect get in the way of good: know that the first time you step on your mat, you won’t find your deepest practice. Know that you won’t do everything, and you’ll probably make some mistakes and misunderstand some cues. But don’t let that stop you from possibly finding a practice that can change your life if you let it.
Someone in my life always says they’re “not good at yoga”. This pains me to hear because I don’t believe that you can be “good” at yoga. You either do yoga or you don’t. You might be more or less experienced, or more or less flexible, or more or less strong, but if you’re on your mat and breathing, you’re good at yoga.
We teach this posture in Yoga 101.
That’s a lie.
I fell on my face approximately 2 seconds after this photo was taken.