The Perfectionist’s Guide To Moderation

The only quote I have listed on my Facebook profile is, “Ce qui mérite d’être fait mérite d’être bien fait,” which translates to, “That which is worth doing is worth doing well.” Obviously, the spirit behind this quote is to inspire me to strive for excellence, which is an good thing; however, this philosophy has also lead me into the traps set by perfectionism:

  1. Inaction: “If I can’t do it well, I won’t do it at all.”
  2. Taking on too much: “No one else can live up to my standards, so I’ll do it all myself.”
  3. Inadequacy: “What I did wasn’t perfect, so it wasn’t good enough.”
  4. Criticism: “What you did wasn’t perfect, so it wasn’t good enough.”

If this sounds familiar, I recently wrote an article over at Inner Fire about overcoming perfectionism: The Perfectionist’s Guide To Moderation. (No comment on how long it took me to decide whether the apostrophe fit better before or after the s.)

For more on perfectionism, here’s a post I wrote three years ago around the quote “Sometimes we strive so hard for perfection that we forget that imperfection is happiness.”

Sometimes we strive so hard for perfection that we forget that imperfection is happiness. - Karen Nave

Sometimes we strive so hard for perfection that we forget that imperfection is happiness. – Karen Nave

8 Weeks Pregnant: Surrendering Control (Or Not)

August 10 – August 16: 8 Weeks 0 Days – 8 Weeks 6 Days.

Big Cousin

We announced my pregnancy to my family with this big cousin shirt for my niece, Rosie.

Richard and I spent three days last week driving from San Francisco to Vancouver. I knew my mom would have dinner on the table as soon as we got to Vancouver, and I wanted to share the news of our pregnancy first thing so that any nausea-induced rudeness (like pushing the brussels sprouts as far away from myself as possible) would be interpreted in context. We sat down for dinner with my parents, my sister and her husband, and my two-year-old niece, Rosie. Before we could even say grace, I produced a green tissue-paper-wrapped gift and said, “We got something for Rosie. Let her open it right away!” Rosie unwrapped the package and held up a pink shirt. My sister read aloud the words printed below two amicable elephants: Big Cousin(A reformulating of my initial plan to tell Richard I was pregnant the week I found out). Everyone was pleasantly surprised and congratulated us. My mom got up to give Richard and me a hug and cried happy tears.

Normally I would be the one to play with Rosie while Richard helped out with cleaning up from dinner, but this trip I spent a lot of time laying on the couch and “Auntie Riri” (what Rosie calls Richard—she hasn’t quite figured out the difference between aunts and uncles yet) got to interact with Rosie a little more. Nothing is as reassuring to a pregnant woman as watching her partner successfully care for a child. He said that having his own baby on the way gave him a new confidence with children—or at least motivation to start practicing.

I saw several friends while I was in Vancouver, some of whom guessed I was pregnant before I could break the news! Normally with my friends and family I go on a hike, or kayaking, or skiing. I was grateful that my loved ones were willing to go on gentle walks or do other activities that I could bring a folding chair to. I’ve heard that—contact sports aside—expecting mothers can continue doing most of the activities they did before pregnancy. It must be true for some women, because I’ve seen pregnant ladies running and women in my vinyasa yoga classes up until their last month of pregnancy. That’s not the case for me. While gentle physical activity makes me feel better than sitting around resting all day, my body seems resolutely against anything strenuous. Activities that push my cardio, strength, or endurance make me feel nauseated. Even deep stretching doesn’t feel good. My pregnant body is a Buddhist, urging me to embrace moderation—the middle way.

We got home from Vancouver and immediately started packing our whole life into boxes. We’d owned our new home for a month, and it was finally time to move in! We’d originally planned to rent a Uhaul and do the heavy lifting ourselves (with the help or a friend or two). After lugging a few preliminary boxes up to the house in our Honda Civic—just to get the process started—I abashedly convinced Richard to hire movers. I realized that I would not be able to contribute much to helping with the move, and I didn’t want Richard to hurt his back trying to compensate for me. Obviously I had a good excuse and there was nothing to feel guilty about, but the raw truth is that I hate having limitations. A common theme in yoga and meditation is learning to be with discomfort without needing to change anything about it. I teach this all the time, and I thought I was fairly good at it. I knew that pregnancy would be uncomfortable and rife with change, but I thought I would be able to ride its waves with equanimity and acceptance. Sometimes I do. But sometimes when Richard gives me the sage advice, “Go lay down on the couch and let me handle this,” I snap back, “I don’t want to go lay down!”

At least because of the meditation I can take a step back from my outbursts to laugh at my gracelessness and accept that I am a human on a journey.

~ * ~

Perspective: As I publish this at during my twenty-second week of pregnancy, I can’t help but laugh reading back over this journal entry. One evening this week, I asked Richard if he could cut up a mango for me and get me a glass of water. As he obliged, he said “I think you’re finally getting the hang of to letting me do things for you.” I felt equally proud and chagrined. I think he could sense my cognitive dissonance, because he added, “That’s a good thing!” Hopefully by the time my baby’s birthday arrives I’ll have enough practice to be able to completely and shamelessly surrender my need for control. After all, as Richard often tells me when I’m combatively independent, “You know, eventually you’ll have to leave our children alone with me for a few hours, and just trust me to take care of them.” I would never want my type-A personality, control-freak mentality, lone wolf tendencies to cost him trust, respect, and precious one-on-one time with his children. As I wrote fourteen weeks ago, I am still a human on a journey.

I am enough. I have enough.

You guys, I did something new in yoga last week!

I was practicing in the lovely and inspiring Dana Damara‘s class, and her theme centered around the mantra, “I am enough.” When we suffer from feelings of inadequacy, we start to practice in ways that feed our ego, which often don’t coincide with what is actually safe and serving for us. Dana encouraged us to cultivate “enoughness” in our poses, regardless of the complexity of the variation we chose. Learning to believe that we are enough just the way we are calls upon a fundamental principle of yoga: santosa, contentment.

Exploring this theme for myself, an article that was making the social media rounds a while back came to mind. It was a sort-of-condescending article about how Generation Y Yuppies are unhappy because we were raised to think we’re special, so we grow up with inflated self-esteem and an unrealistic sense of entitlement. Although many people took issue with the article’s oversimplification of Gen Y Yuppies’ woes, there are some grains of truth in there. Instead of thinking “I am not enough, I’d better force my foot behind my head to make up for that,” many of us think, “I’m awesome. I deserve to be able to put my foot behind my head.” In the end, it’s the same result: we practice from ego rather than from awareness, increasing our chances of injury and decreasing our chances of physical, mental, or spiritual progress. With my inner princess in mind, I modified the mantra to, “I have enough.” This calls on some additional principles of yoga: tapas (non-excess), brahmacharya (moderation), and aparigraha (non-greed/non-envy).

Variation on tree.

Variation on tree with the ankle crossed over the opposite knee.

So what did I do that was new in that class? Well, balancing has always come easily to me—one teacher informed me it’s because I have big hands and big feet, so don’t get too envious. The first time Eka Pada Galavasana (flying crow arm balance) was ever introduced to me in a yoga class years ago, I was able to do it, at least to some extent. Teachers always give students the option to stay in a variation of tree instead of taking the arm balance, but even though eka pada galavasana hasn’t been feeling as great for me lately as I’m rehabilitating from an injury, I’ve never been able to resist flying. Well, last week in Dana’s class I finally transcended eka pada galavasana’s irresistibility.

I was the only person in the room standing upright with my hands in prayer. In a moment of mental weakness, I fell victim to temptation and made a gesture put my hands down on the floor, but I snapped out of it a moment later and pressed my palms back together, this time resting my thumbs on my lips. I repeated to myself, “I have enough. This is enough.” And it really was.

If we cultivate excessiveness, extravagance, and greed on the mat, these qualities will only flourish in our life off the mat. Sometimes the most advanced practice of yoga is not choosing the contortion that challenges your flexibility nor the acrobatics that challenge your strength. Sometimes it’s choosing the simplicity that challenges your ego.

What are the ethical principles associated with yoga?

Q: What are the ethical principles associated with yoga?

A: In the Yoga Sutras, Putanjali lists five yamas, hindrances, and five niyamas, observances, which make the the first two of his eight limbs of yoga. The yamas teach us how to treat others and the niyamas teach us how to treat ourselves. They are as follows:

1. Ahimsa – Nonviolence
2. Satya – Truthfulness
3. Asteya – Nonstealing
4. Brahmacharya – Moderation or Sexual Responsibility
5. Aparigraha – Non-possessivenes

1. Saucha – Purity
2. Santosha – Contentment
3. Tapas – Self-discipline
4. Svadhyaya – Self-study
5. Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender