Recently, I've become interested in the art of storytelling. Back in November, storyteller, Naomi Steinberg blew my mind with a storytelling workshop. She opened portals of narrative for me that I did not know existed. With her deft facilitation, I literally found myself pulled by a current of ancient stories. The stories are everywhere, but you need to know how to look. And then, you learn how to tell.
Before she came, she'd left instruction to chose a fairy tale. God, I thought. Do I really want to do this? But I had committed. Besides, my friend Jenny had loved it. So, reluctantly I sought out a story to bring. No princesses as beautiful of the moon (so patriarchal!), no talking animals (so juvenile!), no wicked witches (again with the patriarchy...). I chose the Emperor's New Clothes. Beginning. Middle. End.
The thing was, as we worked on the stories, as we unearthed their essences, I found myself longing for the very witches I'd cast away. I wanted a wise woman. A princess. And some strange magic to occur.
But I stuck with my Emperor, his vanity embarrassed me though I could imagine him salivating over the promise of the most exquisite woven cloth. I entered the landscape of the story, touched it with reluctant fingers and found in its centre avarice and pride, shame and naked truth. The very traits that exist in all of us.
The Emperor did rattle me. He brought me to the trading centre of a coastal city and made me feel the absolute vulnerability of a man exposed – naked no less -- to an entire audience of people. My heart ached for him as I left him to walk his long walk back up to the castle.
At the end of the weekend, I was left feeling like I was part of a narrative current. That these ancient wise stories had a way of reaching into us, teaching us if we were only willing to listen.
And so it is with yoga. The tradition of yoga is ancient, its spiritual aims high. (Enlightenment, no less!). Like the stories, yoga asanas are small portals into the human narrative arc. We can observe how we are greedy like the Emperor, perhaps not for cloth, but for a "better" pose. Or, we may go into the pose expecting it to be familiar, only to discover a plot twist that brings us to a new awareness about our bodies or our minds.
As you enter a pose, think of a narrative arc. Beginning. Middle. End. The beginning offers the foundation, the premise for the pose. The middle, remember, is where the plot thickens. How is your body feeling today? The big toe mound is hard to ground. The left side is tighter than the right. The shoulder blades feel free today -- like wings.
Then, you return home. The end of the pose. After the journey. Somehow, at that moment you are changed. If only slightly. Different from when you started.
When I was a kid, I started a lot of things. Guitar. Piano. Painting. Gymnastics. In my mind, I could take down an audience with "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", play perfect concertos, paint like the Impressionists and flip into a gold medal dismount off the balance beam. When I slammed head-first into the reality of clunky piano notes and awkward stick men, I'd quit whatever lessons I'd been taking and retreat into the silent spell of books and records. If I couldn't do it perfectly, I wouldn't do it at all.
Later, as I discovered yoga, I noticed that I was still afflicted with this idea of achieving perfection. The drive to "get a pose" often informed my practice. "If I move my knee over the centre of my foot, open my chest like the teacher says, then, I'll have it." But then, the teacher would come over and offer some insight into the twist of my pelvis and I'd think: "Damn. I still don't have it"
Someone once said that it is called yoga practice, not yoga perfect. This is helpful to remember, especially if you aren't practicing because you think you'll do it wrong. (A very common concern.)
Practice means we give our attention to our bodies in asana. We nurture them. We explore the asanas with a certain generosity and kindness. If the pose challenges us, we stay. Even if only for a breath or two. Then, we reflect on what the pose has to teach us, whether physically, emotionally or mentally.
And then, we breathe.
BKS Iyengar says: "Change leads to disappointment if it is not sustained. Transformation is sustained change, and it is achieved through practice."
The problem with perfectionism is that it creates a belief that we should feel a certain way. That all planets and stars come together, align like a mobile and then, we'll be struck with enlightenment or wealth or whatever it is we seek.
Practice, however, is incredibly generous. Practice does not wait for the perfect alignment of stars. Instead, it waits for us to dust off our mats. And like a Divine hand, it gives us whatever is here now.