Practice makes progress
In the early stages of my life, I believed that practice made perfect, presumably because some adult told me so. For years, I put all of my faith in this falsity and, thus, I practiced everything with the goal of perfection. The struggle was real, and I was constantly disappointed by my efforts. Years later, my soccer coach casually informed me that perfection doesn't exist (WHAT?!?!) -- "Practice makes permanent," he said. Permanence certainly seemed more feasible than perfection, yet it was still an intangible concept, incapable of being observed or even felt; I couldn't quite grasp it. Plus, I was naïve (read: obnoxious) and I still wanted to be perfect.
Since completing my 200-hour yoga teacher training in 2012, I've pondered this gem of a quote from Sri Patthabi Jois: Practice and all is coming. What does it mean to practice yoga, and what is the "all" for which I'm waiting in my practice?
My yoga teacher training began during a period of seemingly insurmountable pain following inexplicable tragedy, a time in which I succumbed to constant self-criticism. I needed an escape from the harsh voice inside my head, a place where I could feel whole and good again, and my yoga mat offered that place of solace. During my training, I learned that yoga is many things, but arguably its most important aspect is the art of stilling one’s mind, or quieting one’s thoughts, a valuable skill for anyone plagued by a hypercritical internal voice. The feat of calming the chatter in one’s head may be achieved on or off the mat, making yoga much more than a physical practice.
Through yoga, I’ve learned to let go of futile thoughts, stemming from painful experiences of the past and fears of the future, in order to simply be present. It is during these moments of mental fortitude, of being completely out of my head and in the moment, that my physical practice is strongest and I’m able to find balance on my mat. Balance is not easy for me, but I've spent a little time each day trying to let go of my expectations, even my breath, quiet my thoughts, and engage my bandhas, all in the name of finding stillness on my feet, and even on my hands. In doing so, I've seen progress, growth, and what was once impossible for me (balancing upside down) has slowly become possible. Being upside down has literally allowed me to flip my perspective when it comes to how I view myself and the world. I recognize that I probably won’t be doing handstands when I’m old and grey, and my asanas certainly will never be perfect, but being aware of these truths is part of the beauty of a yoga practice. The greatest gift yoga has given me is that I'm no longer concerned with permanence (because everything is temporary -- the only constant in life is change), or perfection (because it is an unattainable goal, and the end result is not as important as the journey itself); rather, I'm simply enjoying the process, because there's so much satisfaction to be had in these little moments of growth. What I'm realizing is that progress, in my thoughts and breath as much as in my physical postures, is my "all."
As humans, we are all works in progress, and perfection doesn't exist. The more I remind myself of this, the more I'm willing to accept, and even appreciate, my mistakes and failures, my so-called imperfections, for they enable me to learn and to grow. How boring it would be to attain perfection, for it would inherently mean there is no opportunity for advancement. I now welcome the challenges that will cause me to make mistakes and to fail in life, shining a big, bright light on my imperfections… Bring on the progress!