This is the sixth post in a series called Principles of Asana, looking at how to skillfully apply discernment and wisdom in our poses and in our practice. Catch the previous posts here, here, here, here, and here.
I used to sort of hate really flowy yoga classes.
You know the kind, where you wave your arms around you in Warrior Two and drape your torso over your legs like a noodle in Forward Fold and then gracefully dive up into Urdhva Hastasana, the kind of class where the teacher says things like, “Move in any way that feels good.”
I hated these classes because when I first started practicing yoga, I was obsessed with alignment. I wanted to know the exact right way to do the poses. Was my back foot supposed to turn in or out in Warrior 1? DId my bottom arm go inside or outside the front leg in Side Angle Pose? Should I press into the inner edges or outer edges of the feet in Wide Legged Forward Fold.
I wanted to know the precise actions in each pose so that I could make sure I was doing them right.
I inadvertently tied my worth as a student (and later, as a teacher) to my ability to know the ins and outs of every pose and to my ability to then execute the poses with precision. This perfectionism created a rigidness in my practice that I just couldn’t shake.
Some years ago in class I asked my teacher a question about the “right” position of the hands in Downward Dog. “Heide,” I said, “Should my hands go with the index fingers vertical in Down Dog or should they externally rotate a bit?”
“Ask a better question,” she replied.
I was thoroughly perplexed. I did not know a better question to ask. Helpfully she supplied one.
“What happens when you place your hands with the fingers vertically aligned? What happens when you turn them out?”
This simple reframe has dramatically shifted my approach to the practice. When I’m obsessed with alignment, I’m carrying my perfectionistic tendencies with me onto the mat. I feel the urge to perform the poses, the achieve some aspirational bodily form. Underneath that urge is a sense that I must prove myself, that how I am inherently is lacking somehow. My options and my existence become restricted to the false binary I’ve constructed of good/bad, right/wrong, perfect/imperfect. But when instead I ask “What happens when...?”, I access my curiosity.
Perfectionism is a snake bite. Curiosity is the antivenom.
Where perfectionism limits us, curiosity opens up possibilities. Where perfectionism says we’re not good enough, curiosity points to a multitude of acceptable ways of being. Where perfectionism kills our buzz, curiosity increases our capacity for joy.
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