I'm a born worrier, perfectionist and control freak. This is not something you'd expect to - or want to - hear from a Yoga instructor, I'm sure. They say awareness is key, don't they?...
Some of these characteristics can actually have a use. They make sure I never miss a flight - although my husband might argue about the necessity of turning up two hours ahead of check in. And they're partly responsible for my avid, verging on nerdy, attention to perfecting postures during training for my Pilates and Yoga qualifications back in the day. These coping mechanisms have kept me feeling safe when life has felt scary or out of control, but they have a pesky way of zipping in your deeper fears, while you're focused on keeping the day to day gremlins out.
I came back to Yoga, experiencing burnout, as a way to quiet my anxious mind, boost my low mood and relax tense muscles. It did that, and so much more. Yoga taught me to let in some acceptance for myself, physically and emotionally. To smile when my tree pose is shaky and to notice, with kindness, if my chest is carrying a tell-tale ball of stress.
I recently took part in a beautiful Yoga class at Yoga Rise in Peckham. The tutor was guiding us through a wonderfully meditative Yin Yoga class and I found myself preoccupied with achieving the perfect Bridge pose. Were my hips completely symmetrical? Were my heels close enough to my sitting bones? I was completely missing this perfectly imperfect moment. Lost in my need to get it 'right', her words cut through, as if she could read the chatter of my monkey mind: "There is no perfect asana." And she's right. There is no perfect asana. There is only the shape that feels right for you in that moment. The asana that allows you to be really awake in your present experience.* The asana that is good enough - just as we are good enough.
Ironically, just as the Paradoxical Theory of Change would have it, this freedom to do things imperfectly on the Yoga mat, to let go of my worries about getting everything 'right', enabled me to develop my practice further than I could ever have imagined at the time. And it's a lesson that has travelled with me off the mat and into other areas of my life. It helped me to grow past the causes of my burnout and recreate life, with a more adventurous spirit. A tight-fitting safety-jacket of perfectionism can be tough to unzip, but I can definitely tell you that wriggling out of it gives you so much more freedom of movement.
*as long as it's safe (Sorry about the teaching-point!)
Calm an anxious mind and alleviate stress with Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge pose)
- Lying on your back, bend both knees and place the feet flat on the floor hip width apart. Slide the arms alongside the body with the palms facing down.
- Press the feet into the floor, inhale and lift the hips up, rolling the spine off the floor. Lightly squeeze the knees together to keep the knees hip width apart.
- Press down into the arms and shoulders to lift the chest up. Engage the legs, buttocks and mula bandha to lift the hips higher.
- Breathe and hold for 4-8 breaths.
- To release: exhale and slowly roll the spine back to the floor.
Miriam Christie is a portfolio-careerist, dividing time between teaching Yoga and Pilates, blogging about health and wellbeing, training in humanistic integrative therapy, mental health campaigning for campaigntoendloneliness.org and public relations for career coaching organisation careershifters.org