Hi, my name is Vivi, and I’m a perfectionist. And a control freak. And hold impossibly high standards for myself.
Practicing yoga as a perfectionist does not come without its challenges. And that’s putting it mildly.
Once, I got so upset that I still couldn’t get into a headstand that I burst into angry tears, threw a pillow to the wall, and proceeded to the store to buy 2 pints of ice cream.
So, you know… That’s not exactly the healthiest approach to practicing yoga. Or living life.
But we do the best we can.
Yes, yoga is for the perfectionists
A big part of the yoga practice is to let go of our ego, learn to listen to our bodies, and respect their boundaries.
I’ve grown a lot in my nearly four years of practice, but there are times when I still get frustrated on the mat. And that’s okay. It’s a life long journey we’re on, after all.
Thankfully, there are some simple mindset changes that can help you!
Here’s how to practice yoga as a perfectionist and find magic on the mat. (Hint: The key is kindness!)
1 | Start small
When you’re trying something new, it’s easy to jump off the deep end.
The idea of starting small is, frankly, ridiculous. There’s no way you’d settle for practicing a mere 5 minutes a day, like some sort of weakling! Who does that? You’re a badass woman, not a mouse! It takes 21 days to create a habit, after all, so let’s crush this shit. 90 minutes a day for 30 days straight sounds about right. Right?
It’s good to be excited about healthy habits and starting a new, better chapter in your life.
But you have other commitments and responsibilities. And life is unpredictable. Some days are really shitty! There are days when all you want to do is just forget about yoga and being healthy. You’d rather go eat your weight in ice cream with a friend instead.
As a perfectionist, failing your carefully crafted plans sometimes result in cycles of self-hatred and punishment. That’s the opposite of what yoga is trying to teach you.
Sometimes there is such a thing as too ambitious. It’s okay to lower the expectations you have for yourself.
You can still make a commitment to your practice and a healthier lifestyle. Just start small.
I recently practiced yoga for 37 days straight, out of the planned 100. But we’ll get to that later.
For now, all you need to know is that I’m a stubborn bitch who’s way too hard on herself.
I want to practice at least an hour of vigorous, sweaty vinyasa yoga, every damn day. Which leads to burning out and the ugly, angry crying and consuming huge amounts of frozen treats.
This time my goal was to practice 30 minutes a day… and that made all the difference.
It was not daunting to get on the mat every day. Because I knew that if I could spend half an hour watching Netflix, I sure as hell could spend the same amount of time on my practice.
And so can you.
It doesn’t matter whether you can commit to 30 or 10 minutes. Pick a time that works for you and have fun with your daily practice. You can still build healthy habits, enjoy the challenge, and find joy in kicking ass at something.
Even if you start small.
2 | Master the basics
When you start yoga as a perfectionist, you have a lot of expectations for yourself.
Especially if you spend a lot of time on social media and see all the pretzely yogis in all sorts of incredible poses that require Superwoman kind of strength and badassery.
Naturally, you want to live that sweet pretzel life too. We all do. Because that would mean that we’re strong and flexible and all around fabulous. I mean, it only makes sense.
But if you want to find true magic on your yoga mat, you need to learn to let go of those expectations and shift your focus.
Channel your desire for perfection into mastering the basics.
Focus on the sun salutations, standing postures, and vinyasas that are the core of every single practice session.
Pay attention to how their correct alignment feel in your body. Take your time and build the base for your practice. It’s going to support you in your journey for the rest of your life.
Stop worrying about becoming a sexy yoga pretzel with Jessica Jones level strength. Shift your focus into exploring the alignment and how the postures feel in your body.
3 | Open your mind to modifications
Did you know that a modified pose is still the right pose?
A good teacher is going to offer you modifications. They’ll teach you ways to make a pose work for you, your body, and the level of your practice.
Instead of demanding perfection of yourself and risking possible injury… Why not open your mind to the modifications?
A modified pose is still the right pose. It’s going to help you balance, strengthen your body, or gain flexibility in the same way as the full version of the pose.
It doesn’t mean that you’re any less of a yogi. It doesn’t make you a weakling or a newbie (and there’s nothing wrong with being either!) We all move at our own pace.
You might have been practicing for years and still need to modify certain poses. I still do a baby cobra in most of my vinyasas because upward facing dog isn’t good for my back.
I’ve gone through phases where I beat myself up for having to modify such a “basic” pose.
But you know what? My practice is not lesser than just because I listen to my body and modify when needed. My vinyasas don’t suck ass. They’re beautiful.
All we can do is breathe and let go of the ego. Accept that this is where we’re at today. This is where my body is at.
Maybe one day I’ll find myself in the full version of the pose. And maybe not! Either way, I’ll be okay.
And so will you.
Listen to your body. Respect its boundaries. Practice kindness. It ain’t rocket science!
4 | Stop forcing your body
We all want to feel confident in the jaw-droppingly beautiful and terrifying postures. Even if you’re not a perfectionist!
We want to stretch so deep that our head touches the knees in a forward fold.
We want to fly.
We want to feel like invincible, glowing goddesses.
And we can only achieve that by practising hours every day, never having a break, and always, constantly, pushing our bodies and forcing them over their limit. No pain no gain, right?
If you cannot get into a pose without pain, you’re not ready for it. So what?
Hear me out. So you can’t get into the full splits. But what’s the point of the pose (hanumanasana) anyway?
To stretch your body — the hamstrings and thighs. And guess what? You can feel that same stretch even if you’re not in the full expression of the pose.
As long as you feel the stretch you are doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.
Same goes for other postures!
Stop being a bitch to your body! There is no room for the no pain, no gain bullshit mentality in yoga. It’s not worth risking physical, perhaps even permanent injury to your body.
Stop forcing yourself into the full version of the pose if it’s not where your body wants to go.
A modification is not a lesser version or a weaker version. It’s a different version.
Accept that this is where your body is at today.
5 | Switch it up
When you feel like you’re too focused on perfection in your yoga practice, it’s a good idea to switch things up. Keep your brain and body curious!
Embrace variety in your practice. Try out different styles of yoga. Explore the other aspects of the yoga lifestyle. Adopt a meditation or pranayama practice to your daily routine.
Change your surroundings. If it’s available to you, take your practice outside! Change the room that you practice in, try an early morning practice, explore new decorative elements. You could add simple things like candles or plants to your yoga space to help you get into an even deeper state of relaxation and peace.
Practice with new teachers. Some teachers focus on getting your heart pumping and butt shaking with physical, dynamic classes. Others are more focused on slower movement and mindfully working on your flexibility. Then there are others who include more spiritual aspects and meditation into their teaching.
Every teacher has their own unique approach to yoga — which means that you’re going to learn new things about the yoga practice as well as yourself. It’s also going to help you grow and develop in all areas of your practice.
Don’t get stuck in a rut. Keep your yoga practice fresh by trying out new and different things with an open mind and heart! Teach your brain and your body that it’s okay to let go and try new things.
6 | Focus on your breath
Often, people who are new to yoga want to focus on the physical asana practice. They want to move their bodies and learn the postures and that’s it. And that’s perfectly okay.
Unfortunately, if you dare express that publicly, you will get to enjoy a lot of condescending comments from the holier than thou types. You know, like ‘you can’t get the full benefits of yoga without meditation and breathing and going vegan and spending 5 minutes in one pose!!!!”
You might as well come sit next to me. There’s no judging in my side of the yoga community.
When I was a beginner, I didn’t have the patience for meditation and breath work. I simply wasn’t interested.
Now that I’ve been practicing for a while, I’m more open and receptive to it.
It’s okay to wait for the moment when you’re ready to explore those other aspects of yoga. With time, the physical practice will start to feel like it’s not enough for you. You’ll feel excited to find out more about what yoga actually is besides the postures.
Having said that, breathing is an essential part of the yoga practice and you should keep an open mind if your teacher includes pranayama in the class. And it’s useful for your life outside the mat as well!
- The simple act of focusing on your breath is meditation. You will feel more present and in tune with your body and mind.
- During your practice, breathing will help you focus on the postures on a deeper level.
- A few deep breaths can save you in your life off the mat when you’re feeling frustrated or angry.
Remember to breathe. During your practice, pay attention to the breathing cues that your teacher gives.
Whenever life starts to get too much for you, treat your body with kindness. Take some time for yourself and take a few deep breaths.
7 | Turn your frustration into motivation
You remember the story about the pillow throwing and angry crying when I couldn’t quite get into a certain pose?
A simple tip for those practicing yoga as perfectionists is to turn your frustration towards a posture into motivation. If you have a pose that you really love and would like to conquer, great! You have a new project to focus on!
Try making it the focal point of your motivation — instead of frustration.
You can start by dedicating an extra couple of minutes after your yoga session to work on the posture and see your progress.
Take it one pose at a time. Dedicate a little bit of time every day to work on the posture and pay attention to the subtle changes as you progress. Use the learning process as motivation for growing in your practice.
8 | Listen to your body
Yes, I said it. Again.
Sometimes your body just needs a fucking break.
Sometimes you have to let your ego go, accept the facts, and let yourself have that break. Take a couple of days or weeks off your practice and get back to it when you’ve given your body some time to rest.
I told you earlier about completing 37 days out of my own personal 100 day yoga challenge. I wanted to practice 100 days straight and see what it felt like once I got there.
Well, I made it til day 37. And then my right knee and elbow were like bitch take a break we can’t do this anymore.
It became painful to practice even a downward facing dog.
So, I swallowed my pride and took a full month off to make sure my body and joints had enough time to rest and heal before getting back on the mat.
At first, I felt like a failure. And I was so upset because, for some reason, I really wanted to get to that 100 days! I felt completely betrayed and let down by my body.
It was also a very humbling experience. I’m not Superwoman! Yoga injuries are real!
Part of the practice is learning to listen to your body and those little cues it gives you when it’s time to rest, relax, and let go for a moment.
You can always restart.
And when you get back to the mat, you might be surprised. Maybe your body needed that break to help you grow and get to a new level in your practice.
Your body is pure magic, after all.
How I practice yoga as a perfectionist — a simple ritual
- I change who I practice with on a weekly basis. This keeps me from getting bored and motivates me to show up on the mat.
- I practice yoga at the same time every day. My only goal is to just show up to the mat for 30 minutes and see what happens.
- I’ve ritualized the experience. I practice daily at the same time, I light my candles, I put music on. I arrive to the moment.
- Because of my recent injury, I’ve learned to listen to my body extra closely. I especially make the effort to treat my knees with kindness. Knees are important.
- If I feel frustrated, I rest in Downward Facing Dog or Child’s Pose and focus on my breath for a few moments. I try to shift my focus into admiring how amazing my Child’s Pose is.
When you’re practicing yog as a perfectionist, it’s difficult to accept where your body is at. It sucks to realize that the strength or flexibility needed for a pose simply isn’t there yet. And yeah, sometimes you get the angry tears and want to just quit.
Practicing kindness and acceptance becomes easier with time. Don’t give up on it!
When you’re living that sweet perfectionist life, having yoga in your life is even more important. It will help you find clarity and focus and give you a sense of peace and fulfilment.
Are you a yoga-loving perfectionist?
Share your experience down in the comments!
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