Letting Go of Perfection On and Off the Mat
Oct 01, 2015 11:21PM
● By Nina Antolino
Are you a perfectionist? “No,” you might say, “I just like things to be a certain way; what’s wrong with pursuing excellence? I put 150 percent into everything I do.” Before you discount the possibility that perfectionism may have an exceptionally strong grip on you, ask yourself these questions:
n Do you find yourself doing something repetitively until you get it “just right”? Perhaps you do not even try or procrastinate because you don’t think you will do it perfectly?
• Do you continually strive for an unachievable goal and then beat yourself up because you couldn’t reach it?
• Do you compare yourself to others then feel inadequate?
• Do you measure your worth against some long to-do list or your ability to be productive, do more, multitask and then feel like you are not doing enough because you didn’t accomplish it all?
• Do you feel guilty or uneasy if you relax – even just for a little while – believing you are wasting precious time and energy when you “should” be getting things done?
Perfectionism is characterized by a person striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluation and concerns regarding how others may judge them. It is often triggered by an inner compulsion to overcome a deep sense of perceived inadequacy, which shows up in many ways; it can manifest as an obsession with body image, a “Type A” approach to work, a lack of balance and satisfaction in your life, physical illness due to ongoing self-perpetuated stress and, yes, it can even show up on your yoga mat.
Striving for excellence and having the internal motivation to achieve one’s goal with laser-like focus can be a good thing. But when it becomes an obsession for perfection, it can have a negative impact on your body, mind and soul. You can be so quick in your pace toward perfection that you lose connection to mindfully living your life and being your authentic self. Under the guise of the pursuit of excellence, perfectionism robs the very essence and creative ability to achieve your greatness.
From an early age, many learn that pleasing those around you – parents, teachers and friends – is more important that standing in your own truth. You disconnect from your own inner knowing and find your worth inside others’ approvals, standards or opinions of you. Well-intentioned adults believe if they just push you harder, you will realize your potential. You come to believe that who you are is based on what you do - or rather, what you do (exceptionally) well. You learn that who you are is defined by scores and grades. What if your gifts and talents cannot be measured by SAT scores or grade point averages? What if who you really are has nothing to do with your intellect but more to do with your heart?
You continue to strive and strive and run faster and faster to some ephemeral goal that may have little resemblance to what you really want or who you started your life path being. Eventually you become so ensnared in this perfectionist, constantly striving Type A role that it is difficult to find your way back onto your authentic path.
Your practice on the mat is a transformational opportunity to notice how perfectionism and striving can take hold of your life. You often come to the mat with the hope of feeling more connected, more relaxed, balanced and alive. And yet, you often see this constant striving for some perfect pose and dissatisfaction/frustration when you cannot achieve this idealist shape you are trying to emulate. You find yourself performing and comparing yourself to others and using that as a means to either feel good… or judge for being “not good enough”. You lose touch with feeling your way through your practice and rather force your way through, trying to conquer a pose, at the risk of injury and pain. Have you then lost the essence of what you came to the mat to experience?
It has been said, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” But HOW you approach the challenges you face can either help you grow or keep you stuck. As Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa offers, “Yoga is not about self- improvement, it is about self-acceptance.” It is about finding the balance between effort and effortlessness, embracing your yin and yang energies of doing and being. It’s about letting your ego take a back seat and releasing your struggle against your body. There is a reason why they call it a ‘practice” and not a “perfect.” As in other areas of life, when you get so caught up in doing it perfectly, you lose touch with the enjoyment of it. Yoga is a discipline but is also about being light-hearted and having fun. It is a science, but it is also an Art that is creative, expressive and organic, since everyone’s body is different with unique gifts and limitations. It simultaneously offers you the opportunity to challenge yourself to grow, while meeting yourself wherever you are with mindfulness, compassion and acceptance.
Nina Antolino is owner of LP-Limitless Potential, LLC, coaching & consulting and LifePath Yoga & Wellness. She jokingly refers to herself as a recovering Type A, perfectionist. Her path has led her from Structural Engineer, to Global Leadership Development Manager, to Consultant and now Yoga Instructor, Empowerment Life Coach, Reiki Master. She believes her perfectionism is what inadvertently led her toward this more authentic path and it is why she is committed to help empower each person to do the same.
Nina’s wake up call came in the form of a chronic illness 15 years ago at the height of her corporate career. “My body had completely broken down on me and with it, my whole way of seeing myself came crashing down. I was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and forced to take a short term medical leave. My life as I knew it would be changed forever.”
She found herself at the Omega Institute for a weeklong Mindfulness Meditation for Stress Reduction by Jon Kabit Zinn. Several months later, she was back for a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training program. This was when she first learned the power of slowing down, letting go of control, and finding her way back to a more authentic path.
“The very first day the instructors emphasized the importance of learning how to be a C student. I had no idea what that meant. I was never happy unless I was an A student. It was the single most important lesson I learned in that training. Letting go of doing it perfectly and accepting where I was.”
After years in the holistic health field, Nina has realized her vision and opened LifePath Yoga & Wellness, 430 Main Ave, 2nd Fl, Norwalk. Life Path’s mission is to help each person embrace their own unique path and offer personalized, integrated mind-body tools to embrace their full
potential. See ad, page 31.
Ten A’s: Attributes to Cultivate Your Full Potential
As we let go of our perfectionistic Type A approach on our mat, we can embrace the 10 Attributes for living with greater balance, harmony and authenticity on our Life Path.
Inner Yin Attributes of Being:
1. Awareness is the foundation to your lifelong journey. It begins with Mindfulness. It is your ability to clearly see things (yourself and the world around) as they really are, with compassion.
2. Acceptance is letting go of resistance or fighting against your experience and embracing where you are- freeing up energy to create what you wish, with non-judgment.
3. Appreciation is looking for what is right, and being grateful for each experience.
4. Authenticity is discovering your own truth. Speaking and acting with integrity- being true to yourself.
5. Attitude leave your attitude and ego at the door. Embrace a positive, inspiring viewpoint and can-do attitude.
Outer Yang Attributes of Doing:
6. Accountability is taking responsibility for your own growth and ultimately the fulfillment of your life.
7. Aspiration is creating a compelling meaningful vision for your life, dream big and know that each step toward your vision is an important aspect of your journey.
8. Alignment is living in integrity, aligning words and actions, personal, organizational and group goals.
9. Action is from a place of centeredness, knowing which actions take you toward vision and move your life forward. Take consistent small steps and actions that align with your inner passion and truth.
10. Actualization is realizing your full potential.