Yoga for the Perfectionists: Why Yoga is the “Perfect” Practice Rebalance Us
Perfectionism is a learned behaviour. It is a personality style of someone striving for flawlessness and perfection accompanied by critical self-evaluation and the concern of others evaluations. It is correlated with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, OCD, etc. Perfectionists believe they are valuable because of what they do for other people. They are less happy than high achievers. Perfectionism is a strategy people use, but when they are imperfect, as all humans are, people go right back to their painful core beliefs that are likely untrue. The truth is, perfectionism may benefit us, but it makes us unapproachable, it is easy to fail, it is exhausting and it is subjective.
Elon Klain describes in a TEDx talk that we all have perfectionism in us, but this causes us to wait for the perfect circumstance to do something, rather than just starting it, which in turn prevents us from reaching our goals.
Gabor Mate explains his own life’s choices to become a physician as the way to make himself wanted and needed after a childhood of feeling unwanted. He describes in many of his talks, “what is a better way to feel wanted than become a doctor, where you are needed 24/7 to deal with emergencies and births.”, but any imbalance continued and practiced creates further imbalance, which in this case is Gabor’s kids being impacted by his absence and workaholism.
If perfectionism is learned and provides a gateway for people to feel acknowledged through the praise of their perfection, maybe people who aren’t feeling acknowledged or validated in their relationships or lives unconditionally learn that their perfectionism is a condition that is valued and acknowledged and they choose it. In choosing something continuously (especially when there is a dopamine reward like acknowledgement), it becomes habit, and people become more perfect.
This imbalance becomes more clear when we look at extreme athletes, olympics medalists, high-achieving academics, models, or people in our everyday lives that take aspects of their life more seriously than others.
Perfectionism is problematic because people become so used to being perfect, when they are proven imperfect, they are unable to cope. Humans are imperfect beings, so it is essential to learn resilience in moments we made mistakes or fell short of our goals, or hurt someone by accident, or slept in, or overindulged, or didn’t meet someone’s expectations.
What helps? Yoga!
Yoga is all about balance. Yoga requires focus and concentration. It is impossible to be perfect at yoga and this is what makes it a practice.
Yoga is the perfect practice for the perfectionist because it allows us to hold up a mirror to our external and internal selves. Whether we notice dust on the floor in a child's pose, we just want to reach out to check our phones, we feel emotions arising, we are rushing, we are pushing poses as far as we can, or we are being hard on ourselves, it is all information. This information is highly valuable because it brings awareness to what is going on for us for real, and from there we can do the work.
While doing pranayama, at times I will get incredible moments of inspiration and things I instantly want to write down or look up, but I simply remain aware of the quality, the speed, the topics, and the focus. Other times, I feel rushed and like I would be more productive doing something else. This is also information and may indicate I am avoiding something or not feeling worthy of the time I have dedicated to this practice.
What do you do to keep balanced?
Dr. Julie Osborne. MyCBT Podcast. When Really Great Isn’t Good Enough
TEDx. (Mr. Elon Kline, 2018). This is Why You Are a Perfectionist.
Gabor Mate. (Personal Communications, 2017)