I was not a gymnast or a dancer, for heaven's sake I could barely touch my toes... So when I first started practising yoga, I would get frustrated. The perfectionist and Type A in me always pushed harder and strived more. My ego would surface during every class, ignoring all of my body's signals to slow down and breathe. I realised that I cared way too much about what others thought of me. It was almost as if I was determined to show to all the other practitioners in the room how strong I was, how flexible I was. And did they give a damn? Hell no. It sounds pretty ridiculous when you put it into words. Or maybe it wasn't about the others at all, perhaps I was determined to prove something to myself, out of fear that I would be a failure? Why do most of us do this, would we intentionally mistreat our loved ones the way we often mistreat ourselves?
In the Yoga Sutras, one of the most important texts in the age-old yoga philosophy, the author Patanjali presents five specific ethical precepts called yamas. The first yama, and probably the most famous, is ahimsa, usually translated as “non-violence”. Ahimsa refers not only to physical violence, but also to the violence of words or thoughts, which can be as powerful as any physical attempt to harm. We are all taught as children not to be violent towards others, but what our elders have failed to remind us is to practise non-violence towards ourselves.
There is no such thing as perfection and therefore living a life always in search of perfection, only leads to disappointment and suffering. My story is about learning to embrace my imperfections rather than trying to hide them. And a long, winding road it has been...
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” Anna Quindlen
It was during a morning yoga practice, in the summer of 2013 while on holiday in Cyprus with my family, that something snapped! No... quite literally. I tore my hamstring. The funny thing is that until now, the story I had told others and myself, was that the damage had been caused in the pool during a very comical aqua gym session with my father and sister. Yes I somehow managed to convince myself of this... I was in complete denial! In denial of what you might be asking? In denial that YOGA had caused my injury... shock, horror. But that's just it, the real truth is that yoga does not cause injuries, people do. Unless we are truly present, learn to listen to our bodies and practise with non-violence, we won't see any of the benefits and we end up doing more harm than good.
So had I learnt my lesson? Of course not! When I should have backed off and slowed down, I did quite the opposite. There were moments during my challenging practice sessions that I didn't feel the pain, so I continued to push myself. And then there were times when the pain was excruciating and it was like my world was falling apart around me. Yoga was my passion. It was my escape from a job and a career that made me so unhappy. So if I didn't have yoga, what did I have? How very dramatic!
With some perspective now, I would say that it was a year later that I started to listen in, to slow down and truly feel into what I was doing. I believe it began when I took my first class with Danielle Dugan, a wonderful teacher at PURE Yoga in NYC. The pace of the class was slower than I was used to, her voice was soft and the music was calming. At the end of the class, I felt like I was floating on air. I had softened into my strength and for the very first time had practised being truly mindful.
We spend a large part of our youth learning. We learn about various subjects: history, geography, mathematics, languages etc. Yet we don't take the time to learn about our own bodies, the bodies that have been with us every step of the way, the bodies that have weathered every storm. My practice now has taught me to be more curious about my body, and to explore which poses feel good and those which simply don't. Furthermore it has taught me to stop forcing it. To my surprise, it's when I stop trying so hard and try going easy, that the breakthroughs happen. I am learning to embrace my body and all its imperfections.
“These days, my practice is teaching me to embrace imperfection: to have compassion for all the ways things haven’t turned out as I planned, in my body and in my life - for the ways things keep falling apart, and failing, and breaking down. It’s less about fixing things, and more about learning to be present for exactly what is.” Anne Cushman
No, I probably will never be able to put both legs behind my head, or contortion my body like all those wonderful yoga pictures we see on instagram. And I am ok with that. In fact, I'm more than ok. I'm awesome.
"Giving up on being perfect is hard. The work of becoming yourself is hard. The payoff, though, is truly amazing, and you’ll continue to reap the benefits for the rest of your life."
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