Perfection is a good quality; it is an ideal that gives us something to aspire towards. The Latin root of the word is perfacer, to bring to completion. So, to perfect something is to bring it to its state of completion or full development. Letting go is part of the perfection of yoga.
We can observe how nature moves towards perfection, towards creating an ideal. But what that ideal is, is beyond our comprehension. Generally, we have our own individual intellectual ideas of perfection. These ideals are formed in our minds due to influences from our parents or society., They often become unhealthy and addictive thoughts and behaviors.
The mask of perfection is one I have yearned to let go of but, until quite recently, did not quite know how to. Perfectionism, for me, often rears its ugly head when I feel out of control. If I endlessly pour over details and inform myself of all possible outcomes, then I trick myself into believing that I can create the perfect result.
At times, our own addiction to perfectionism prevents us from feeling the full, expansive joy of life. This addiction has its roots in our past. We develop this habit from childhood, from a feeling of insecurity. We try to control what we can with obsessive critical thought patterns. When we learn how to let go of this unhealthy habit, we notice our past memories replaced with self-acceptance. We discover the joy of communicating freely from the heart.
Rather than letting go of this gut-wrenching experience of putting myself into turmoil for not being perfect and then needing to use all available healing modalities to release it over and over again, I now realize it’s the addiction itself that has to be released.
Practicing yoga in life is an offering to humanity. More personally, it is an offering to my own path towards healing. Svadhyaya, or self-study, allows me to see through the masks of pain and perfectionism. Underneath these masks is a true yearning to do good deeds in this world. The intention is for the highest good. So, if I make a mistake, fall, fail, or make a mess once in a while, I am now in a place where I can finally be okay with that!
Deep breathing, meditation, and yoga asana all help but only when they’re practiced without my obsessive need to find the perfect alignment. The word alignment implies putting something in line. In this case, in the physical sense while practicing asana it means to align the spine specifically and all the skeleto-muscular system.
I have learned alignment in many asana classes in the west. Of course, there is also a perfect ideal alignment to strive for—a physical ideal that the teacher often embodies and the rest of the class struggles to imitate. This is where my addictive need to achieve perfectionism kicks in and produces tension in my body and mind. I see how this focus on physical alignment with emphasis on key parts of the body is necessary to protect the body, the spine and the joints from injuries. But when it is taken even a little further or to an extreme, this mental effort becomes too intellectual. Then the mind is over-engaged and tensed, FORCING the alignment into the body!
Yogis in the past were only focused on finding a way to dwell deeper and deeper into the present. Yogis today are dwelling on the alignment of the body. Yoga practice is from the inside out and not otherwise.
Yoga is a holistic practice, encompassing so many different aspects of a human being. Modern science has yet to catch up with the ancient Yogic sciences. Yogis know that the human being is beyond this biological machine made up of matter and hence they give it minimum importance.
The most important aspect of the body is the Prana according to the Satapatha Brahmana, (one of the prose texts describing the Vedic ritual, associated with the Shukla Yajurveda). Prana is the body of the Supreme Consciousness. Without it, consciousness would not be expressed in the inert body. This energy flows spontaneously in the body and regulates all bodily functions without our even being aware of it. When the spontaneous flow of Prana is uninterrupted, it keeps all the processes of the body as a healthy and harmonious whole.
However, when the mind is unbalanced and tense, mental strain blocks this subtle energy, and the body becomes diseased. Yoga asanas are one of the yogic methods used to remove the impurities of the mind and body—the stresses and strains that impede the flow of Prana. When asanas are performed in the right state of mind, the body is brought into equilibrium.
Realizing all this, I have to remind myself to release the mental strain caused by my perfectionism. The other way I am able to see my mental tension is to observe whenever my mind wanders away from the present moment into worrying about the future or feeling bad about the past. I usually become aware of this tension whenever my breathing is shallow and irregular. Bringing my focus back to the present moment, focusing on calm breathing and the unique tools used and the sound of the mantras during an Amrita Yoga class all help me relax and flow with the postures.
Practicing asana and letting go are such wonderful tools to get us away from the mind and into the body and breath. So why do I insist on trying to control it from the mind? We live in such a mental realm most of the time, and this is a wonderful opportunity to drop the mind, to find peace without unnecessary thoughts.
Ultimately, perfectionism implies a lack of trust in life, a need to control what is already in harmony with nature. Our bodies follow the natural laws of the universe if we allow them to. Letting go of perfectionism means we can relax into the innate intelligence of our bodies.
After all, we are all born with this higher consciousness! We can see how newborn babies and animals don’t have to think to control their bodily processes. They are in tune with their bodies, and so they breathe and move with grace and in harmony with life.
Yoga is a process of letting go and undoing all the bad mental habits we have acquired in order to find our way back to that innate harmony of soul, mind and body. I just need to trust and relax into the practice. Then all manner of benefits will flow into my asana practice, benefiting me so I can then go out and do good deeds in the world!
When I finally let go of perfectionism, perhaps it will then be replaced by the perfected state. We are all striving for some ideal that we cannot even properly define. Perhaps, as we continue in our spiritual practices, the goal of human life will become clearer. The perfected state is probably beyond all our concepts, struggles, mental tensions and habits. It will be revealed as we come closer to the source of our being!
Author: Rosario and Brahmacharini Shobhana
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