Yoga has provided tons of benefits during the 11 years that I have practiced it. It stretched and strengthened my formerly tight and inflexible muscles. My joints, once inflamed by an autoimmune disease, became more limber and less painful. At the end of each session, I felt more alive, yet peaceful than I ever knew was possible. I quickly embraced a daily practice and enjoyed beginning my days with my simple asanas (postures).
Before yoga, I was a critical and judgmental person. Most of my criticism was directed at myself. Another way to describe it would be to call myself a perfectionist. If I didn’t say the right thing, respond correctly in every situation, or behave in the way expected of me, then I found fault with myself, and the criticisms began. Those criticisms used to show up as soon as I stepped on the mat. There were some postures I could not do, or places where steadiness was elusive. I would say to myself,
“You stink at this.”
Fortunately, I had amazing teachers who seemed to live inside my head. They instinctively knew that I was being critical of myself, and encouraged me to do the opposite. Week after week, they inspired me to do my best—no more, no less. I was told not to compare myself to the others in class but to listen to my own heart and body. I was given variations for each pose and modifications that were less strenuous on my body. Most of all, they urged me not to take the practice or myself too seriously.
But the best part of yoga for me was the end of the class. When my teachers had me enter into savasna (or final relaxation), I learned to let go. I learned to concentrate on my breathing or follow a guided meditation. By giving my mind something on which to focus, I was able to release all the worries, cares, and anxieties that plagued me incessantly. Those few minutes spent on the mat breathing and being present during savasna were heavenly. That’s what made me fall in love with yoga.
Sthira-sukham asanam (The posture should be steady and comfortable). Yoga Sutra 2:46
What Patanjali teaches about “comfortable” has relevance to the practice of yoga poses, which are not different from the practice of life itself. Learning to live in a way that is comfortable, or agreeable to others and the Earth is crucial. It begins when you can bring a sense of the comfortable to your inner life, to your thoughts, and to how you frame your reality by how you speak to yourself. - Judith Lasater, Living Your Yoga
Letting go of perfectionism—like letting go of anything else that doesn’t serve the soul—is a process and a journey. I still need to work at it on a daily basis. When those critical voices spring up in my mind, I remind myself of the fourth agreement—Always do your best. When those negative emotions and habits show up in my life and threaten to stand in the way of my joy, I have to let them go. I’m talking about toxic emotions like anger, blame, control, envy, expectations, fear, regret, suffering, and pride (also known as thinking you're always right). I know they aren’t helpful. I recognize that they are harmful to my relationships, yet I still have a hard time letting them go. I have been writing about my journey letting go on my blog. Check it out, and share your successes and stories of letting go of that which no longer serves you.
This blog post first appeared on Yogasteya, a website dedicated to helping everyone get the benefits of yoga, regardless of your age, shape, size or fitness level. Thanks to Dianne Bondy for allowing me to share my story with her audience.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.