How to Let Go of Perfectionism

Someone recently told me that if you worry about whether or not you are a good enough parent, you are. I had two simultaneous reactions: 1. Relief, and 2. The thought “Isn’t that setting the bar kind of low?”

Clearly, my recovery from perfectionism is not complete. Maybe it never will be, and maybe that’s okay.

Yesterday, I emailed the following quote to Eden Yoga newsletter subscribers for Mother’s Day:


It’s important to notice the diabolically difficult nature of parenting and to not expect perfection. There is no perfection in the world and we don’t have to be perfect. Instead we work with the life that is mysteriously ours with its own particular weave of love and pain.  And we agree to be present to it, to accept the offer moment by moment, to develop unlimited friendliness for what is and who we are.

Susan Murphy

                       

Many of you told me that the quote resonated with you. Yay! It made me realize that many of us need reminders that we are just fine exactly the way we are. We do not need to be “better” at anything, “more” of this or “less” of that. In fact, one of the great, beautiful ironies of the universe is that the more we anchor into moment-to-moment experiences of self-acceptance and self-love, the more effortlessly we shine our goodness into the world. There is no “trying” or “self-improvement” involved.  

The Myth of Alignment

I got to thinking about a common misconception about Iyengar Yoga. People think that Iyengar yoga is all about learning to do the pose “the right way.”  It can appear that the purpose of our focus on alignment is to help students match some ideal version of each pose. It is SO easy to think this, especially because we often have photographs of B.K.S. Iyengar demonstrating these poses with unthinkable steadiness and ease on the walls of our studios.  

When I first came to Iyengar Yoga in my early 20’s, this illusion that I would learn to do the poses “correctly” appealed deeply to my perfectionism.  Of course! Why would I want to flounder around doing them wrong? Why would I want to pay for a yoga class where I was directed to “let my body guide me”? I can do that at home! I misunderstood the purpose, but the classes worked their magic on me anyway.

The purpose of focusing on alignment is to spread awareness in the body, to connect mind and body. In Iyengar Yoga this happens in an amazingly palpable way. I remember my first revelation: I felt my brain relax for the first time ever. How can a brain even relax? It made no sense, but I felt it. (And, not coincidentally, I felt it when I gave up trying to figure out the meaning of the cue “let your front brain rest on your back brain”).  I remember my second revelation: One day, after many confused attempts to balance two opposing actions (in Tadasana, thighs back, tailbone in) I suddenly felt them both happen at once, and a sensation of space and freedom filled that whole area of my body.

A stylized version of DaVinci's Vitruvian Man, depicting the concept of alignment

Growing a Healthy Body Image

Another thing started happening. It was possibly the greatest gift yoga gave me: an entirely new way to look at my body. Until that time in my life, I only thought of my body in terms of its relative attractiveness or unattractiveness. This is not a happy rollercoaster to be on, no matter what you look like. As I began going to yoga class more frequently, I began to instead notice how my body felt. I started to care about how my body felt. I started to feel grateful for all my body could do for me. (Even if there were many poses it could not do). And most importantly, I began to think of my body as a vehicle for my soul. As my mind shifted to this new way of thinking, my concern about appearances began to fall away.

Pandemic Pounds

Now, this IS all a journey, and the path is rarely straight and narrow. I’ve unintentionally gained a little weight during the pandemic. I’m not thrilled about it but at least now I know my appearance is not a measure of my worth. I can shift my focus to how I feel. If I decide I don’t like how I feel, I am fortunate to have an extensive toolbox for changing it. And, ironically, the most powerful tool for change is acceptance. There is a huge energetic difference between resisting/fighting the things we don’t like, vs. making positive choices based in love.

Painting of mother and baby in love

Parenting with Steadiness and Ease

Back to those photos of B.K.S. Iyengar. What is so inspiring about those photos has nothing to do with alignment. It is the fact that he appears so steady and easeful. You can almost see the union of his soul, mind, and body spreading from the crown of his head to the tips of his toes. He is fully present.

Back to parenting. The things I tend to worry about (e.g., are my children getting enough love/support/limits/education/structure/freedom/responsibility) are important, it’s true. However, in the act of worrying, I am taking away from them what they benefit from most: my ability to be fully present with them. Instead, I attempt to remember to follow this process:

1. Make mindful choices.
2. Live with them a while. Be present, observe. Do not waste mental energy second guessing these choices.
3. Reevaluate periodically and make any necessary adjustments.

The act of writing this helps me clarify and remember this process. Which is to say, I need support and inspiration, as I think we all do at times.  The above process is a lot like a photo of B.K.S. Iyengar: It is not about matching it perfectly; it is about being present. It is about noticing the moments of steadiness and ease. They are there. Soak them in.

Thank you for reading and keep up the great work being you!

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