Sometimes the way forward is blocked because all that is known is based on the past. To truly learn something new requires surrendering your notions of what is possible and impossible.
Trusting a teacher to lead you to this new and sometimes scary place requires a leap of faith. Old and treasured thoughts have to be thrown out so that your mind is open to the new experience. Deeply entrenched behavioral patterns might be challenged and strong emotions may arise, threatening to derail your progress.
Every yogi is a student who will find their edge of comfort somewhere. The job of the teacher is to build a bridge from the status quo into a new possibility in the student. Sometimes antagonism arises even when the student wants to learn and the teacher is available to help.
When these mental and emotional obstacles arise at the edge of comfortability, it is the best time to do the inner work of yoga.
Teacher and Student
I recently attempted to help a student get into Pincha Mayurasana with very little success on my part.
No matter how I tried to reach this particular student, she would resist my adjustments and argue with me during the practice. While if she was successfully doing the posture I would have left her alone, in fact she was not able to maintain the balance in the posture and came to class asking specifically for my help in the posture.
So I tried my best to meet her where she was. After nearly a full week of practice and lots of discussion, she agreed that her movement pattern was not giving her the results she wanted, e.g., successfully doing the posture.
But what was perhaps even more revelatory was her state of mind. She told me that she wanted to get it absolutely right and that she didn’t want to fail.
Technique vs. Experience
After researching the posture on her own and studying with many different teachers in an attempt to get the balance in Pincha Mayurasana, she had collected a wealth of technical and anatomical information about the posture that she was attempting to apply. Whenever something went against what she had already learned, she resisted.
While technique is really useful, sometimes we need small personal adjustments to help our own bodies learn.
It does not mean the “official” technique is wrong, but that perhaps we need a more tailored approach to the practice. While it took a lot of digging to get there, the emotional attachment to perfection was a bigger issue than any physical technique. As soon as the emotional obstacle came to light, we were able to work much deeper.
Searching for the perfect posture in every movement based on outside information can create an obstacle out of sincere search for knowledge. These notions of right and wrong are based in the past and while they can create useful guidelines, the practice of yoga is flexible and must be applied to each individual student.
In my student’s case, her search for perfection actually prevented her from adjusting the posture to her own body.
Knowledge is meant to free us from suffering and illuminate the path ahead. ~Kino MacGregor
In yoga practice, the highest form of knowledge comes from direct experience. And in order to fully experience your body, sometimes you need to push your boundaries. While the desire to get perfect alignment in every posture is admirable, yoga is also about just relaxing into the present moment of where you are.
In the relentless search for perfection, sometimes too much tension is created along the way. If you already “know” how a posture should be, then you're not really opening yourself up to new ways to work with it. If you need to be perfect right from the beginning, you might deprive yourself of the necessary trial and error that gives you direct experience of the subject at hand.
Sometimes you need to give yourself permission to fail so that in that space, you will succeed.