With the hundreds of thousands of posts on social media of beautiful bodies holding “perfect” postures in the most difficult of yoga poses it is no surprise that many people believe that anyone should be able to get to these perfect symmetrical shapes. This discourages many who try to do yoga and struggle so much with each pose that they leave the class or end the session feeling defeated, tense and/or upset. In no way, shape or form is the true form of doing yoga. True yoga means being able to navigate the obstacle course of difficult shapes but while doing so feeling strong, balanced, calm and at ease…regardless of what you look like in the shape. Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you attempt a yoga practice:

1. No body was born with perfectly symmetrical alignment and poses are not simply distinct shapes that you try to achieve. Instead, the poses are a tools to work through to get a better understanding of your physical body and mental state. By approaching each shape by listening to the words given by the yoga instructor and moving your own body to those instructions you learn how your body moves, how your mind processes the information, how to quiet the mind and listen in the present moment and how to use the pose to get into your body rather than using your body and forcing it into the shape. Once this is realized and one is accepting of the way that their body moves and the way their mind processes the instructions given you are successfully practicing yoga regardless of what the shape looks like from the outside.

2. Often times you will hear yoga instructors say that when you are not in “proper alignment” you could cause injury to the body. It is much more likely that these injuries that arise in yoga are caused from forcing your body into shapes that it either is not ready to move into or that it will never be able to fully express. Instead of forcing your body into this so called “perfect alignment” listen to your body and what it is telling you each breath and each movement. When you start to feel tingling or numbness in the body that means it is time to back off in whatever pose you are in. By focusing on the breath, quieting the mind and the ego, and listening to signals from your body you will be much more likely to prevent injuries than if you try to force yourself into an idealized version of a difficult yoga pose.

3. When you approach each yoga class look for an instructor that can speak the language of sensation with imagery and conciseness. The best yoga instructors may not be able to do the most difficult poses, have the most graceful transitions or hold postures the longest. However, if they are able to guide you through a class making it simple and joyful and allowing you to turn inside to find a deeper practice both mentally and physically then they are the ones who can really help you transform your yoga practice.

When you attend your next yoga class I challenge you to stay calm in the face of difficulty and try not to judge the shapes that your body is able to make. Instead, listen to the body, focus on the breath, and accept exactly where your body is in the present moment. Even when you start to get tired, come back to the breath and finish out the complete practice with positive energy, a big smile and no thought of perfection! Namaste. xo