Headstands eluded me in my yoga practice for the first couple of years. I had the strength and flexibly to prep the pose and even lift into it but I could not, for the life of me, hold it for more than a moment or two. It turns out that the place I was being instructed (even by some huge and notable teachers) to lay my head did not give my body a happy foundation to keep my spine in extension. As a result when I lifted into the pose all I ever found was pain, no good.
It turns out, of course, that the headstand wasn’t the problem, it was how I was approaching and trying to preform the pose. I was working at it by trying to cram myself into a box of so-called asana perfection. The day I realized that giving myself permission to change the angle of my neck and place my cranium much closer to my forehead on the floor was an all out game changer, not only for my inversion practice but also for the way I view balance in my life.
The most important thing I have ever come to understand through my yoga practice is that it always serves me better to strive for balance over perfection. Of course, it’s hard to remember that all the time. I was brought up by an Irish family and perfection and guilt are buried in my bones. Not to mention I feel like all the top ten hints on every magazine cover and social media post are taunting my perfectionist tendencies by telling me I should both be and do more.
I feel like if we are ever going to have an honest conversation about balance with full transparency we are going to have to be willing to acknowledge that being balanced for each of us looks a little different and that balance and perfection are not the same thing.
My headstand doesn’t look text book perfect and it will not land me on the cover of Yoga Journal, but I can sustain it, with soft concentrated effort, pain free, for a fairly long period of time.
The day I was able to hold my headstand for the first time was also the day that I was able to digest the concept of sthira-sukham asanam, or as many of us have learn it to be translated from the Yoga Sutra “posture (asana) should be stable (sthira) and comfortable (sukha)”, in a whole new way.
I know there is large debate that the practices of yoga are going down the tubes and that what most of us are practicing is a watered down, hybrid, half versions of the deeper root teachings, perhaps. I am sad in my heart for people who have not encountered strong teachers who might give them opportunity to grow and deepen their practices so they can move off their mats and infuse the work into their lives.
I am not one of those people. I have had absolutely amazing teachers and know the profound benefit that all the time and effort and investigation I have spent on my mat holds. My yoga practice serves the deepest layers of my life and affects the way I move through the world and how I interact with all other people.
Yoga and life are about uncovering the true self and the work is never done. Yoga is about getting under all your thoughts and judgements, all your habits and hang-up and everything you are resistant to. It is about discovering what makes you feel bright and alive, what challenges you, what makes you feel at ease or uncomfortable and how you tend to respond to all of it. A yoga practice is the most amazing experience for learning how to honour ourselves, the limitations and availability of our bodies and hearts, as well as the expectations we place on ourselves while experiencing something. The result of all of this introspection also speaks to the way we treat and regard others. To me yoga is the essence of honouring balance over perfection and it continually asks me to show up, to be present and aware, and to drop my expectations.
If you have not had a teacher that has been able to share any of this with you, and you would like one, keep looking. If you are limited where you live, look online. Find someone who will help you challenge all the layers and levels of yourself. Someone who help you understand your own balance. Some of us need to find the juice to push a little more, some of us desperately need to do less. The more time we spend uncovering this practice the more that is revealed.
The day I learned to finally, truly balance my effort an ease in sirsasana was also the day I realized, perhaps while still upside down, that I try to muscle myself through all kinds of things in my life that might not need more effort, that might in fact need more space, more quiet comfort, more ease.
I want to do everything, and I want to do it all really, really well. I want to have perfect health, a perfect marriage and a stunning home. I want a thriving business and lots of time for self practice. I want to be inspired to write and share, to have lots of time to spend with my girlfriends and parents. I want to take exciting holidays and adventures, tend an amazing garden and learn to speak Spanish.
Can I do all of this? Yes, maybe, but defiantly not all at once and definitely not with a crazy level of perfection attached to each item on the list. This is how the deeper teachings of yoga are coming off my mat with me to change my world, more and more and more everyday. It’s taking years and years of practice and that’s okay too.
Sometime I have to giggle at myself in noticing how hardwired some of my unfavourable habits and tendencies are. They may be things I will be working on for my whole life, but I am 100% up for the work. Now that I have invested into it for this long ceasing to practice isn’t even an option anymore. In fact, now I can recognize that all moments of my life are my practice when I allow them to be. I would be lying if I said yoga has stopped my from wanting it all and wanting it all a certain way, but everyday I am working to strive for balance over perfection.