Practice makes perfect is a phrase that slips off the tongue a little to easily. If you look at the yogis here, it is clear that indeed a lot of practice has gone in. Lovely. Perfect looking. But perfect is daunting, and manifests fleetingly. I’ve had conversations with each of these three – an international ethical business consultant, one who runs her own high end artisan paint company and the other a mother of four, as well as each having life partnerships to maintain – and I know we all feel that our practice is far from perfect.
Sure, in yoga there is the concept of asana jaya, or victory over the yoga pose. It’s nice to hold headstand for five minutes without wavering in body or mind, the breath steady. But in getting there how much do you learn about your fear, your hamstring-shortening sedentary lifestyle, the fragility of your ego and the flow of subtle energy? That is the point. Perfect is not the point; it is simply practice, in other words trying, having a go and learning along the way.
Already to get to the mat or cushion is a victory. When I first heard the expression the science of yoga I was very confused. What this means, however, is that the results are replicable: any person can do yoga practice and they will experience the benefits. This is another encouragement: just do it, as they say. Athletes just do it. Nothing beats just doing it. As Swami Sivananda says, ‘an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory’. This experiential approach, even though the ego and the mind want to ‘know’ stuff, is how true learning takes place.
There is an art to practice, however. Regularity of time and place, props such as your mat, cushion reserved for meditation and certain clothes, for example, are all signals that condition the mind. Be like a gentle and loving parent to yourself, find creative ways to cajole your inner toddler who would rather play with friends or watch television or eat cake before dinner. It’s good to differentiate between doing what is good and what is pleasant. In fact this discernment is an aspect of viveka.
We all have personal experience to show that practice improves. Sport practice, music practice, practice of patience, practice of kindness…. When we pay to listen to top class musicians we acknowledge the hours that have gone into this refinement, a refinement that lifts us out of the ordinary. World athletics competitions allow us to marvel at the heights that are humanly possible. In either case we are inspired and uplifted. When we practice the motivation is towards better or best. Don’t ignore it.
The moment in the top image was completely uncontrived. The session was in the flow, the yogis were in tune, but could not know the visual effect. Grace! Perfect happens when you’re not looking.