Perfect Yoga

There is no such thing as perfect yoga; there is always room for improvement in any posture.

All yoga is perfect; each pose reflects our mind and body at its moment of execution.

These two dichotomies ripple through my mind in every yoga practice. I strive to make my postures deeper, stronger, more precise, yet I accept the limits of my being and how my body varies day to day. If I languor in lax acceptance, I may feel fine in the hot room but enjoy fewer benefits over the course of my day. If I press too hard, I distort the continuum of practice and risk injury. If I accept every posture as ‘the best I can do right now’ I set a very low bar, but if I define perfect yoga as the ultimate expression of every pose, it is so daunting I am not motivated to improve.

About six months ago I developed the notion that perfect yoga, for me, would be to execute all 26 Bikram postures to my best ability. That sounds easier than it is. In almost every class I sustain one or two poses to my maximum ability. I may even extend a pose to a new threshold. But there are always other postures where I come up short. I fall out, miss full extension or fail to reach my optimal depth. In theory I can achieve ‘perfect yoga’ because I have achieved each of its constituent parts at least once, but realistically, stringing my 26 best poses together in one sequence is an unlikely feat.

My nemesis to achieving a perfect yoga practice is Standing Head to Knee followed by Standing Bow; eight balance poses in a row. It is rare for me to execute them all at my fullest depth without falling out at least once. I began to pay very close attention to how I do them. I discovered that holding in my abdomen helps my head to knee balance, and envisioning my standing leg sturdy as an elephant grounds me in Standing Bow. Week in and week out I focused, yet every day I faltered. Until one day, two weeks ago, when I didn’t. I held each balance the full time at full depth. I was so excited on the eighth pose I could barely concentrate. I banished the idea of a perfect series from my mind, focused on that posture in that moment, and I nailed it.

Since then I’ve fully executed those eight poses half a dozen times. I can foresee a future when consistent execution is the rule, not the exception. However, that doesn’t mean that I’ve had six perfect classes. There are 24 other poses, and keeping them all at maximum ability is an ongoing challenge. In the past week my head got closer to the floor in Separate Standing Hands to Feet, my Full Locust got higher. As I improve a specific posture, my standard for perfect yoga gets harder. I reach a plateau, and another rise emerges, beckoning me to pursue new heights.

Of course I’ll never achieve perfect yoga; it cannot be done and should not be done. But I enjoy the challenge of pushing my asana limits, and am content — every day — with doing the best I can on my mat in that moment.

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