Letting Go of Perfectionism – How I Am, and Why You Must

Meredith DeCosta
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I’m not perfect. I know this. I never have been, and I never will be. Truth be told though, as a yoga practitioner and yoga teacher, I struggle with the desire to be “perfect.”

Through my yoga practice and teaching, I have created false visions in my head of what a yogi should be. I didn’t believe in these visions when I started my practice. I just enjoyed getting on my mat, moving my body and breathing deeply.

However, as time passed, my perfectionism, ingrained from youth, and my athletic nature led me to falsely believe that a physically aligned body and a long-held handstand would somehow, someway lead me closer to self-realization.

I got to the point where I even began to criticize my Ujjayi breath or get frustrated with myself for the way my mind wanders during meditation.

It doesn’t help that most Western styles of yoga are competitive and physical. Yoga teachers heap praise on students for a “perfect” triangle or “beautiful form” in downdog. They move, alter, even push the body with their hands and words when a pose doesn’t seem perfect.

This isn’t the teachers’ fault. They are just trying to help me find my highest self and most exalted expression of a posture. It’s not really my fault either. I’m just a human being working to get to a better place, flaws and all.

Yoga has an answer for the desire to be perfect. In yoga, layers of the self are called koshas. Literally and cosmically, the mind and body have sheaths that surround our true center or the atman, the highest self. These layers wrap around us and result in illusions that hurt the mind and body and lead to pain, jealousy, and judgment.

Ultimately, the goal is to release the ego, or as much as the mind and body is ready to allow, to get to the good stuff – the kindness, the joy, the bliss – that lies in all of us.

How do I do this? How do we this? How do we release the need to be perfect and invite in the messy, the flawed, the imperfect? How do we shed the layers to find our true selves?

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

1. Become an observer of the mind. When we begin to listen to false stories, we have to become an observer. Simply notice thoughts, all of them, as they come and go, without passing judgment.

2. Practice pranayama. The breath work is the best work. Conscious breathing in and out for at least six seconds can calm the mind and stop the internal dialogue that defeats us.

3. Destroy visions of perfection and build visions of joy. Ask: what is “perfection” anyway? Then look around a yoga class. Notice the differences in body shapes, in apparel, in faces. Tune into the variations in breath patterns that surround you. Recognize the uniqueness of everyone in the room. Once this happens, it becomes easier to invite in the true self, one that is real and realized, and shed the layers.

Of course, this is all a process. Our first step to letting go of perfection is accepting and agreeing to work through the process. I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

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Meredith DeCosta

Meredith DeCosta, PhD, RYT is an academic by day, yogi for life. She is a university teacher, researcher, and writer. When she's not at the university, she is practicing or teaching yoga, specializing in vinyasa flow and power classes. Meredith playfully blends a deep knowledge of asana with an infectious energy that encourages her students to feel lighter and brighter. Join her tribe of positivity.

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