Yoga Blog – Perfection in Practice

“Do not stop trying just because perfection eludes you”.

This quote by BKS Iyengar came to my mind this morning during my yoga practice. I’ve heard it many times but today it rang loud and clear in my head as I was berating myself in Adho Mukha Virasana (forward facing hero pose) for feeling stiff and aching. I was, for want of a better word, “crock-like” in my body, feeling a little older, a little less capable, weak maybe and all the negativity that could seep into my mind came with full force – why am I feeling like this when I’ve practiced so many years, I shouldn’t be like this, I’m a teacher, I’m not THAT old surely? “It must be my fault”, I decided, “I’m not good enough.” All these negative thoughts and feelings are common place for so many of us, but thankfully, yoga and the teachings of BKS Iyengar and all the great teachers he has inspired over the years, plus all our other good teachers in life, help us to nip these paths to negative thinking in the bud, to pull us back from the brink of defeat and despair.

So I did not stop trying. Although my body felt achy and not at all it’s usual strong and eager self, I carried on, but instead of forcing, I decided to listen to my body in every posture – what were those aches and pains trying to tell me, where were they coming from? How did I feel in my hips in one pose, compared to how they felt in another similar pose? Was it the same and if not, why? I went through my programme for the day with this attitude of perceptivity, listening, observing, recording, discarding actions that led me away from connectedness and gathering information and links between poses – I was building a road map through my practice.

I eventually came to a pose that I “knew” I would struggle with, that it would be challenging for my stiff shoulders and hamstrings. But again, I surrendered to my imperfections and my mind was clear, untroubled. The pose was Prasarita Padottanasana II, where the hands are in pascima namaskarasana and the head should reach the floor, but because the hands are behind the back, invariably the floor is a little further away than usual as you can’t use the hands to press and extend the trunk downwards. Also, the mere action of putting the hands behind the back in this position, when you are stiff, can be very difficult and painful.

Prasarita Padottanasana
Prasarita Padottanasana with the hands in pascima namaskarasana

To my surprise, my hands went into position relatively easily with little shoulder ache, my head, went straight down and touched the floor – my body actually felt good! It was as if the pose did itself, the mind, having changed its “mindset” from negative to, let’s say, positive curiosity, had given the body the freedom to do the pose to its best ability, and achieve better results than if I had decided instead to beat myself up and force, or like the quote says, to stop trying altogether. It was far from a perfect pose, but it had a perfectly positive effect on my mind and my attitude. It brought lightness, playfulness and optimism to the rest of my session and I ended with a feeling of determined enthusiasm.

Whatever your challenges in your practice and I daresay, in your life, surrendering to the imperfections (“feel the fear and do it anyway”) and seeing where the road takes you can be the best way forwards at a time when negativity starts to cloud your thoughts and your judgement. Be an optimist and keep getting back on the mat, keep trying.