A meditation on perfection

Tonight was the first night I got really excited about anatomy. How many of us out there have more than a vague realization that we have a spine somewhere back there? Out of sight, out of mind, right? Paula really made it clear to me that most people (myself included!) are very disconnected from their bodies. We don’t know much about how our bodies work, what’s inside of them or how that relates in any way to our daily lives. How can we expect to make very specific shapes in asana practice when we have no idea how our bodies work?

I have been thinking about how body image relates to yoga during the course of the training thus far. (Ok, actually practically forever, but who’s counting?) I think tonight is a good time to write about it for the first time, though I’m sure not the last.

Practice makes perfect, but what is perfect?

Many of you probably know that I very much admire Debora Spar, the president of Barnard College. She has a piece in Newsweek/The Daily Beast this week called Why Women Should Stop Trying to be Perfect. If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? Go now and read it, then come back here and finish reading my blog post (please)!

I was thinking about the idea of perfection tonight while Paula was explaining to us that there are no straight lines in the body. Yea, you heard me. None. Our bones are spirals on the inside, we are birthed in a spiral, our spine is curved. So when your teacher says “bend your knee to 90 degrees” or admonishes you to make that right angle with your arms in chaturanga, it’s never going to be a perfect 90 degrees. Never. Our bodies aren’t perfect and neither are our poses. Not even our teachers’ poses. What?!

I seem to be having a lot of these “what?!” moments in TT.

Paula said tonight that our bodies are “supposed to have curves” and that we should not try to flatten them out. We have to have these curves in order to bear weight. Now, granted, she was talking about the curves of the spine. But I would argue that one could say the same about the other curves in the body – for women, the breasts, waist, hips and thighs that constitute the “figure,” whatever that is.

In a conventional yoga class, especially in New York, there is a lot of flesh on display. We wear tight clothing, ostensibly, to see the position and alignment of the body. But also to show off our hot yoga bodies. Let’s be real. I’m just asking – how many curvaceous, indeed, how many anyhing-other-than-thin – yoga teachers do you know or have you seen in ads and posters? What stereotypes come to mind when you hear the phrase “yoga teacher”? Uh huh.

This brings me back around to Debora Spar and her article. Perfection is not possible.

Let me just say that again. Perfection. Is. Not. Possible.

She writes,

We have become a generation desperate to be perfect wives, mothers, and professionals—Tiger Moms who prepare organic quinoa each evening after waltzing home from the IPO in our Manolo Blahnik heels. Even worse, we somehow believe that we need to do all of this at once, and without any help.

For me and many of my extremely smart, high achieving female friends, well, I’m just going to say it. That is exactly what we aspire to. I do it too. I wear heels, I make quinoa, and I also have a Master’s degree. I am a feminine woman but also a strident feminist. I feel like I have a lot to prove.

(Feminine) perfection is a fallacy. And we are striving to make it happen at the expense of inner satisfaction.

I don’t have a neat bow to tie around this post because life, unfortunately, isn’t always neat and tidy.  But for me, just beginning to think about these issues from a new angle is pretty incredible.