I am a recovering perfectionist.
As with any addiction, the first step towards breaking free is admitting you have a problem. Unfortunately, for the first 28 years of my life I had absolutely no idea that constantly striving for perfection was an issue at all. I was in denial.
While I have accomplished a great deal thus far – I went to an incredible college and an equally prestigious graduate school, I had a 13-year swimming career that I am deeply grateful for, I’ve done work that I am proud of – I have also lived in the land of expectation, abiding by all of the “shoulds” while ignoring the whisperings of my heart.
I relied so heavily on the image of perfection I created in my mind that I was constantly let down. I lived according to the directions of my brain, instead of abiding by my infinitely wiser heart and intuition. I was a devout believer in the stories my ego told me, never stopping to ask myself, “Is this true?”
I have, and always have had, so many blessings in my life. However, as opposed to loving those blessings with every little space in my heart and being so grateful for each moment, exactly as it was, I was constantly grasping for the next achievement, the next milestone, the next societal affirmation that I was a success. The picture of perfection my ego created made it impossible for me to stop, breathe and enjoy the wonder and love that surrounded me.
Fortunately and unfortunately, I was broken wide open this past spring, and at a time when many of the people and circumstances I had used to define myself had melted away, leaving me with no choice but to discover who I was, what I believed and what I wanted, I came to my mat for the first time. I started slowly, trying the poses and testing the theories on which yoga is based, but I fell hard and fast when I began to realize that amidst all of the fear and uncertainty in my daily life I was able to find peace through yoga. I left the studio each day feeling free and hopeful, enabling me to put one foot in front of the other and walk away from the dark and twisty maze of my mind.
I think it would be a bit presumptuous for me to say that I have transformed, as I still feel very much immersed in a process of transformation. The lessons I have learned on the mat have served as guideposts along my journey, providing insight and comfort as I continue to strip away the image of myself that I had created to reveal the truly authentic person that I am. When it seemed my world was crumbling around me, I wanted so desperately to have a plan, to know how I was going to MAKE everything come together perfectly and bounce back. But the more I practiced, read and spoke with others who had been down this road, the more I realized that in order to truly transform I had to completely and totally let go, trusting that the release of expectations would allow my spirit to soar. Each time I came to the mat I was nudged closer to that place of freedom, as the sweating, breathing, stretching, bending and twisting helped to strip away the ego and provided an escape when I found myself craving my old, grasping ways. Yoga introduced me to faith and trust – in myself, in the people around me, in the universe – and those two words have become the foundation for my ongoing transformation.
I see yoga as the union of the the body and the breath.This union leaves room for all of the thoughts and stories we tell about ourselves and the world to fall away, illuminating our truth. It was through yoga that I started to truly grasp the difference between who I was and who the ego was telling me I was, and that realization has permeated all aspects of my life. Before coming to my mat I was terrified to be alone with my thoughts. I could not just watch them go by, recognize them as the ego or realize that I had control over them. To me they were absolute truth. In practicing yoga, in joining my body with my breath in every single moment, I gained freedom, space, support and love. SO much love – love for myself, love for the practice, love for the yoga community, love for my life and the people in it.
In yoga class we are encouraged to unite, but not in a typical fashion. We share a physical space, we perform synchronized movements, we breathe as one, but all of this is so each individual can feel comfortable as they go within. We quietly support and respect the courage it takes to join your body and your breath, we encourage the transformations that occur and we recognize the light of our classmates in the hopes that they will provide all of the same support as we seek to brighten our own light.
Perfection does not exist in yoga, or in life, and that realization has allowed me to dream bigger, love harder, feel more deeply and live with more wonder. When I stepped onto my mat for the first time I had no expectations of where yoga might take me, and as I write this post I am immensely grateful for that. I have come to see that expectations are in fact limitations, and that when we open our heart to the infinite possibilities we often wind up exactly where we need to be.
September is National Yoga Awareness Month, and I’ve written this blog post for the #yogamatters blogging contest hosted by MPH@GW. To learn more about the contest, share your story or read the stories of others, visit this website.