Trying to be perfect made me literally crazy.
I don’t like the phrase “practice makes perfect.”
Lately, I’ve been hearing this phrase a lot—in yoga class, reading it on blogs and the other day, somehow, even my four-year-old daughter uttered those very words. Hearing that from such an innocent little person caused me to flash back to my childhood and how I, at a young age, started the unobtainable quest for perfection.
Growing up as a dancer, I tried to obtain the “perfect body.”
How could I be rail thin, with a graceful neck, short torso, long legs and fabulous turn out? I tried to obtain the perfect 20 fouette turns, spending hour upon hour repeating movements and steps until they were just right.
I tried to obtain the perfect feet. Yes, feet. You don’t even want to know what I did to get better arches. From the outside looking in, you would think I had nailed it.
What I nailed, however, was a massive eating disorder, clinical depression and a sad and scared heart. I was so obsessed with me and making me “perfect” that the world had become a fearful place.
I worried about what you thought, if you liked me and if what I was doing was good enough. Forget about what I wanted or thought; let me just twist myself into the image of what I thought you liked. (And how would I even know that?) Just thinking about it now exhausts me—so much work. Most people, in trying to obtain perfection, become tense, stressed out and just tired.
With all of that extreme focus on the external, my ego had become my number one motivator. The strange part was that I had low self-esteem and no self-love, yet the world revolved around me.
Ego is a tricky guy.
I’ve heard ego described as “edging God out.” For me, it was more like pushing God (good) out. I was operating from a disconnected place, with a big smile plastered on my face so that you would know that everything was great.
Do this for a long time, year after year, disconnecting more each day from any goodness that matters, and soon it catches up with you.
My rail thin body, straight A’s and dancing accolades started to turn into obesity, failing out of school and not leaving my apartment to show up simply because now they knew I wasn’t perfect. Not to mention complete isolation from friends because no one wanted to be around a hungry bitch.
The truth is, at this point, I had nearly killed myself. My inability to be perfect left me feeling unworthy of being on this planet. I couldn’t do this anymore.
Then, somehow, a ray of light cracked through the hard shell I had created around myself and I asked for help.
Help came pouring in from all over: therapy, books, groups, 12 step programs, meditations, people who said “let us love you until you can love yourself” and finally—yoga. For the last 15 years, my yoga practice has been a path of healing, acceptance and perfectly perfect non-perfection.
I love my body. Period. No matter what.
Getting to that point of “no matter what” took a tremendous amount of retraining my brain to think and believe kind things. Daily mantras, visualizations, journaling, meditations and what I call “shower yoga” helped.
(Shower yoga: washing each body part and saying “thank you for this amazing arm, thank you for this beautiful thigh, thank you for this amazing and beautiful belly.”)
When I noticed a judgmental thought towards myself or someone walking down the street, I would “pause” (thank you, Erich Shiffmann) and visualize light (a.k.a. love) coming from the world, into me or the person I was judging and then that love-light going back out into the world.
I started to experience the world as a kind and beautiful place—wow, who’d have thought? I wasn’t trying to run or control every little thing, and things became more perfect.
Daily, I practiced metta, or love and kindness, towards myself, my students, my kids, my husband and the world.
It was easy to do when I experienced this universe through yoga as the perfect expression of love and kindness. In my asana practice, I didn’t practice poses over and over, trying to get them just right. Each pose was different in every moment, depending on my body in that moment.
There is a classic version of that pose, but who cares if it isn’t safe or connecting you to the greater goodness in the world? Don’t get me wrong, I love challenging myself and trying fun postures. But that is not my yoga. Far from it.
My yoga (the asana part) is the way I approach those poses with non-judgment and metta. The way I open myself up to the creative and powerful flow of life and try to align my movement with this divinity. The way I breathe deeply and sweetly in those poses. And, the way I thank my body for allowing me to try those poses.
Now, there are moments and days when my perfectionist tendencies try to sneak back in. It becomes quickly obvious—I am not in the present and the beauty starts to be sucked out of my day. How sad to be worried about a clean house when two gorgeous kids are running around joyfully loving life.
In my practice, perfection starts to sneak in when I try to “do yoga.” What a gift, to breathe deeply and choose to let “yoga do me” instead.
Practice makes practice. Practice makes progress. Practice makes peace.
That is, if you are connecting with the goodness in the universe and practicing in a healthful way.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
~ Leonard Cohen
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Ed: Catherine Monkman