Why being imperfect is absolutely, ridiculously, beyond perfect for this job.
Yoga. We yoginis all have a personal introduction to it, as random and accidental as some may be. I was nineteen and a sophomore in college when I fell in love with it. In actuality I felt like a 12 year old with bad bangs and braces as I, for the fourth time that week, awkwardly walked by the mystical storefront exploding with colors and smelling of orange blossoms. What were these melodic sounds coming out of this tiny space? Who the hell were these shiny, glowing people exiting its doors? On a Wednesday in September, after a particularly sweaty group of glittery practitioners flowed out the doorway, I tried to slip in unassumingly. I wandered through the foyer, smelling the aromatic oils and palming the hemp clothing as if I knew what I was doing. Afraid of being called out for the obvious imposter that I was, I casually grabbed a schedule and sauntered out the door.
I ran home with my paraphernalia in hand, gave my suspicious roommates the most nonchalant head nod I could muster, and locked myself in my room. I felt like I had discovered a secret. And I couldn’t wait to know more. I was ecstatic. Until I looked at the material in my hands. Damn it. It wasn’t written in English. What exactly is a “vinyasa?” A spiritual wind-blowing machine? I started to imagine its gold-flecked blades shining in the sun. I couldn’t wait to sit in front of it in all its glory.
Thus began my sweat-soaked journey. I loved so much of it. The chanting, the brightly colored mats, the way my body responded. But mostly it was my heart. I didn’t understand the Sanskrit words escaping my mouth in their broken bits, but they stayed with me. They stayed with me as I walked through campus in my Abercrombie cut-off jean shorts and as I soaked in the sun on the top of Frat House B (Sorry, no greek letters on my keyboard) while balancing a beer on my head. I was still an idiot back then, but something had started to shift. Actually everything started to shift. I fell in love with everything that yoga was. I fell so hard, I’m surprised I still have fully formed face. I had always lived to dance, but the mix of spirituality, intentional movement, and mindfulness made me feel both exposed and protected in a way I had never experienced. I felt I was harboring some sacred secret that I was the first to discover. Even though I had so vehemently denied religion as a child (cancelling my own Bat Mitzvah- Oh the torah horrah), I started to feel a faith begin to blossom. A trust in myself. A trust in the universe.
Being the hedonist and glutton that I am, I, of course, wanted to immerse myself in this beautiful feeling. I wanted to consume it, imbibe it, and have it fill me to the brim. My desire for more, more, more led me into the thick jungle of Nosara, Costa Rica for a yoga teacher-training program. I sauntered through the jungle every day on my way to class feeling imbued with purpose. Everything felt right. Everything felt connected. In other words, I thought I had found my calling, I found what peaked my passions, and as a result, I figured I had found myself- Yay! My life was all figured out at the ripe age of twenty-three.
When landed back in the biggity biggity Bay, I was ready to spread the gospel. My wide-eyed enthusiasm landed me teaching gigs at a small studio and an elementary school. But I found it tough to transition back the “real” world after months in the jungle. I struggled to maintain the feeling of contentment I had experienced in Costa Rica. Where as I had felt completely at peace with eating simply and in moderation for the months prior, I slowly watched as sugar and other the “soothing” foods of my past snuck their way back into my diet. Even though I had promised myself to practice for an hour and half each day, that slowly began to fall away as well. I slept erratically, I drank too much, I watched too much TV, I got road rage, and I lost myself… It was those days where the difficulties to teach were the loudest. “Who was this imposter?” I would often ask myself. How could I be a great teacher if I didn’t eat the right things, meditate daily, and be a conscious, glowing being all the time? Could I ever measure up to those teachers that inspired me? I thought of them fondly, glowing from their yogic throne. Would I ever be balanced and mindful with regularity like those demigods? Because I don’t have enough room, or the naiveity to think that someone would want to read about the years of rambling and analysis that took place in my head pondering these very questions, I will cut to the chase. The answer is, simply: NOPE.
While it only took me a couple of paragraphs to admit this to you, it took me years to not only admit this to myself, but to embrace it for the beauty that it is. We are not the archetypes we wish we could be. Wouldn’t it be easy if I could just check the yoga teacher box and not worry about being an idiosyncratic being anymore? I could eat sprouted lentils and organic apples, listen to new agey, gong music, only wear stretchy flowy clothes, and dedicate myself to my one true love: my breath. I could be a perfect incarnation of an ideal. I totally could.
But (and it’s a big but) it would also mean I would forego my individuality. I could forget about my ardent love of booty-praising hip hop music, the adrenaline inducing feeling of driving 15 miles over the speed limit at 2am on the 405, and the taste of a perfect mojito. And of course I would have to practice brahmacharya (strict celibacy)- so no more beautiful, sarcastic, thick-haired Jewish boys for me. Except, wait- I love all that stuff.
Why couldn’t I be a real, live, human yoga teacher? One who sometimes eats a burrito at 3am and regrets it during her 8am vinyasa class? One who backs her car into a large yellow pole because she was screaming Beyonce lyrics at the tops of her lungs and forgot that being a “Grown Woman” means looking over your shoulder when you’re in reverse. One who, occasionally, trades in her yoga practice for a marathon session of the O.C. with her brother.
Well, what I came to understand is that, I can. And I will be a better teacher, and student, for it.
We do not get closer to our students by pretending that we have it all figured out. We only create distance when we don’t allow ourselves to express and celebrate our imperfect humanness. If we can accept ourselves in all of our many dimensions and let our cracks be visible, we invite our students do to the same. Our scars, our stretch marks, our wrinkles, they are all tattoos of a unique, creative life. They are reminders of moments in the sun, of laughing so hard your skin, in all its infinite healing wisdom, could not find a way to forget, and of times where you were miraculously transformed. Our sadness, our shame, our pleasure – all an amalgamation of rare and random life experiences strung together by some act of magic to create a conscious, feeling, desirous being.
Life is not about finding the perfect box and crawling inside without space to grow. It is about riding the waves of our experience with passion and excitement. This is what we know as a universal truth. It’s out there in the abyss, seen through the lessons that are there for us to learn all the way to even something as simple as a heart monitor in a hospital. When you see that flat line, it’s all over. It has, and will continue to always be the peaks, the valleys, and the infinite spaces in between that prove we are indeed, alive.