It is so easy to strive for perfection in our capitalist world of inherent competition. As aspiring yogis we are not immune to that. We often bring the goal of perfection to our mats. We make impossible demands on ourselves, without pausing to look and listen to what is in front of us: our resources, our energy, the shape of our bodies, our deepest longings.
There are two things I have discovered in my practice which relate to perfection. The first is that I need to be careful with what I actually practice, for this will return to me. If I practice competitiveness, this is what will materialise in my life. If I practice perfection, I will get perfectionism and nothing will be good enough, I will not be good enough which, as yoga tells us, is clouded perception. It is a judgement that often times does not come from being present. And presence is precisely what we want, on and off the mat, because it is the only thing that truly is.
The second thing I have learned comes from my teacher Kia. In yoga practice, in particular in asana, there is no goal. So you have mastered the handstand. What next? A one handed handstand. What next? A one fingered handstand, and so on … We are never done. More asana is just more asana. It is not yoga.
In sutra 1.12, Patanjali writes abhyasa-vairagya-abhyam tan-nirodhah: the state of quiet centeredness that he defines as yoga is attained by practice and non-attachment. Both are equally important. If we practice well, if we practice sincerely and invite yoga into our selves, we will become less attached, also to ideas of perfection: doing the perfect posture, completing the full practice when there is no time, comparing ourselves to another whom we deem more perfect than us… Practice requires effort for sure, the right effort, but never strain.
I will leave you with the wisest words, said by the great teacher Krishna to the great student Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (3.35): In yoga, it is better to perform one’s own dharma (one’s duty for the good of the whole) imperfectly, than another person’s dharma well performed. I hope this gives you as much comfort as it gives me, and inspires you to let go, to soften any hard-edged ideas of perfection in your practice.
PS. Thank you, my dear Annie, for your great topic suggestion for this month. If you would like me to think through a particular concept, do email me any time.