My continued practice of yoga has been teaching me a lot. I am learning patience, gratitude, self-appreciation, and how to really understand my body. Sure, it doesn’t always give me clear signals (Which is why I didn’t realize a double yoga session was a bad idea until the day after) but I am getting more in touch and learning how to pay attention to what my body is telling me.
I know that there are a lot of people out there trying to get into yoga, and becoming frustrated and even injured because they’re trying to force themselves into “perfect” form right from day one. Those doing practice alone at home have no one to help them or stop them from doing the wrong thing. In a class setting, the teacher may not pay enough attention to the individual student, and unfortunately, under-trained yoga instructors are being churned out at an alarming rate. Some yoga teachers (from what I’ve read) will even try to force perfection rather than attending to the needs of the individual student.
So the first thing we need to do is realize that yoga is a journey, not a destination. It’s not about getting into tight pants and striking poses that only rail-thin people who’ve been practicing for 10 years can actually do. We’re not competing with each other or the instructor. We’re trying to get in tune with ourselves, become healthier, stronger, and just generally better, mentally and physically.
It’s more important to do what’s right for our individual bodies than it is to be “as good as” someone else. Yoga is about you, not them. This is where that “deliberate imperfection” I mentioned in the title comes in. I have discovered from my own years of practice that you have to know your limits and weaknesses, and adapt as needed.
When I started, I didn’t even know that blocks and straps and props were allowed, much less encouraged by good teachers. Even when I first learned, I thought it made me weak or less to use them. If I was good enough, I could do it just like them. Ha! Oh, the follies of a new practitioner! It took time for me to accept that using tools was actually in my best interest. Even after that though, I was still trying to push my body into those poses, in spite of the pain, and I injured myself on more than a few occasions. It’s actually a wonder that I kept coming back to yoga. I guess something in my soul just resonates with it.
So here we are three years after my first lesson. I haven’t made as much progress as I thought I would, and a good part of that is because of my own foolishness and lack of anyone to tell me what I was doing wrong. Luckily, I’ve learned some valuable lessons, and I’m making more progress in the last few months than I did in my first year. The biggest lesson was that sometimes imperfect form is better than perfect form. Using a modified pose until you get better has more benefit to your body than just pushing it. Deliberate imperfection: holding a pose in a modified way so that you can gain strength and flexibility without injury.
Here are some examples: Beginner Poses – Tight Hamstrings. I highly recommend going out and looking for variations and ways to use props if you’re having trouble with a pose. You may get a lot of different answers, but you’ll probably find something that works for you. This is also where listening to your body comes in. For example, I was working on Rabbit pose this morning and I realized that my butt was too low and my neck was aching when I had my forehead all the way against my knees. I listened to how I felt, and moved my head a few inches out. This relieved the pressure and let me work on getting my legs in better alignment. I slowly pulled in, then slid back out, letting my body ease into it all. In Standing Pigeon, I get a lot of pain. My ankles have always been weak and they’re only recently getting stronger. I find it’s better to straighten my standing leg and work on my balance. Bending that leg and getting a deeper stretch can come later when my ankles are a lot stronger.
The real lesson is, listen to and love your body. Don’t torture it just to try to look like someone who’s had a whole lot more practice than you. Do what you can, modify as necessary, and feel good about every bit of progress that you make. When you’re doing what your body needs rather than forcing it, you’ll do a lot better in the long run. Accept however long it takes and just enjoy getting there.