You might not be getting started with yoga for the very first time, rather, you might just be looking for a fresh start. You may be dreaming of getting back on the mat after a small (or big) break, or thinking about picking back up on your meditation habit that you left in the dust a few months ago. Or maybe, starting again means more than just yoga, like coming off that “vacation” week of eating out and wanting to go back to eating healthy. Or resolving to take the time to keep in touch with your family whose video calls you’ve been avoiding. Or maybe its a vow to go back to blocking your ex who you sought out for a little bit of attention in quarantine (COVID aftermath). This post is about starting over in every sense of the phrase, always with a yoga touch, but first and foremost with the knowledge that it’s ok to fall off the wagon.
After a 2.5 month hiatus from normal life to deal with all things COVID-19, I had one of those weeks. I decided to partake in a little late night whiskey drinking and see a friend that I hadn’t been that keen on seeing as we’d had a falling out and I was doubtful about his positive influence. But, I was getting anxious with my routine of isolation. I hadn’t seen anyone in a long time- the cashier in my local supermarket doesn’t count (by the way, his name is David). I felt that I deserved a little interaction. Well, this particular evening ended very badly: too much alcohol, a little fight with the toxic “friend”, and a bit of a headache the rest of the weekend. Not to mention a sour taste in my mouth about that aforementioned friendship. Thus began an exaggerated week-long feeling of heavy guilt for not being 100% strictly “yogui” and sticking to all my safe and spiritual routines.
The next week I was ill. I was unable to get out of bed, I was unable to practice yoga, write or even think properly. I cancelled private classes, lay in bed with Netflix and honestly felt a deep sadness and guilt. Dark thoughts and anxiety returned to me when that hadn’t been my “thing” in a long time. My mind was taking over. I felt it agonizing just to put my body on the mat and get centered. After letting my mind get the better of me for a few days, I managed, despite my extreme tiredness, to get through some light vinyasa. I immediately felt temporarily uplifted and more relaxed. But soon after that isolated mat-love encounter, dark thoughts and dark chocolate returned to accompany me for a few more days of self-loathing.
Coming out the other end, I realized how hard I had been on myself. How impractical it was, and is, to believe that every minute in every hour of this lifetime I am meant to have unlimited bliss and perfection and be some supersonic “yogui”.
Why was I so hard on myself?
I’ve always been a highly competitive perfectionist and overachiever. In many ways, this has made me successful in life- I’ve gone through life being successful at many things mostly because I am tenacious and I never give up. On the flip side, it’s made me controlling, too unrelenting and very self-critical. Although not so much now, I used to always need to finish on top and be the best. I still scare most of my workmates. This used to seep over into my judgment of others as well, unfortunately. Imagine feeling that everything that you’ve done could always be a tiny bit better and everything you do needs credit and recognition.
In my head, I could always be faster in my timed 5 mile run. I could always work-out harder, or longer or for more days. I could be reading more books than I am now. I could be thinner or fitter or prettier if I just bought the best cream or saw the best doctors or ate the right food. I could just feel better if I never drank a glass of wine again. In the right week, all of these perfect things could be more or less accomplished and I would feel that I was on the road to perfect synchronized destiny.
If I were the best yogui, I would be the tiny trapeze acrobat yogui flying from the rooftops. I would be 100% ayurvedic all the time, cooking up health food that doesn’t have a single ounce of bad in it. And on my time-off, I would still be churning out videos on the blessings of “being” every single day. This is not my reality.
The truth is, all this strive for perfection makes the let down so much harder. I’ll never be that little tiny perfect yogui. I’ll never always stick to my meal plans. I will have bad days where I judge people too much, especially myself. I’ll slip up and have a few too many wines. The truth of the matter is that all of us are pretty good at specific things, and we just need to work a lot harder on the other things. Most of us indulge too much with food, have some cellulite around our thighs, or binge-watch Gilmore Girls on Sundays so we don’t have to think about Mondays. We ALL have those days. Even Sri Dharma Mittra. Even Deepak Chopra.
So, what I’m trying to say is that this crazy and obsessive-compulsive way of thinking about perfection is not healthy. This incessant need for perfection is unrealistic. Comparing yourself with others is a concept revolved around competition- we need to be the best, the brightest and the most beautiful all the time. This is so ingrained and learned in our society and culture but also so unnecessary. I had grown up believing that this constant striving for more things and more money and this desire to be perfect with a glamorous complexion and a tiny body were necessary and normal things to want. Even as a Yogui, I had to be some superhuman every moment of the day. This is clearly an issue of our EGO. All this time trying to live up to high expectations, compare yourself to others, and reach a standard of external “perfection” is, in fact, very anti-yogui!
How can we compete with each other when, if you believe that in the truest sense of self, we are all made from the same atoms, connected at the same universal level, and we are all uniquely “one”? Why would we feel a need to compete with each other for perfection or envy each others’ possessions and bodies if, quite simply, we are all intrinsically and exactly one and the same?
So what can we do?
Yoga practice and study can help teach you how to truly accept you for you. To accept your circumstances when they are not perfect, and embrace moments of tragedy, grief, sickness, and unhappiness. Because, as I will often repeat, yoga is acceptance of the duality of life in its highs and lows and goods and bads, and on the wagons and off the wagons. If you can find true connectedness with knowing there isn’t such thing as “messing up” , you will see that there is no need to compete for material things even if that competition is just with yourself. It’s worth mentioning that it doesn’t have to be Yoga, but this is how I learned to process my acceptance and accept non-perfection.
Many times in life we will be lead astray. Whatever your reason- be it with exercise, healthy eating, studying, or getting those 7-8 hours of sleep every night. It could be as simple as scrolling on social media too much, or as big as beginning to drink again if you are a recovering alcoholic. Yoga is not judgemental. The practice is forgiving and simple. And I’m here to tell you that starting over, or beginning again is possible and will always be possible.
I’m here to say: it’s ok. There is no such thing as perfection.
We need to begin to feel that we are doing the things that we need to be doing at this time for most of the time- not ALWAYS. Hell yeah, things could be better and things could change. But, the important thing to remember, is that things can’t and won’t be perfect. So, give yourself a break. Continue to love yourself in the not so perfect, in the somewhat grimey day you might have. In the hangover that may come. Understand that in these lows you’ll find a way to eventually hit restart and you’ll be back on top. Let go of comparison, let go of ego, just be.
In the meantime, there’s always some small delights. Especially dark chocolate.