The Imperfect Asana*

(*asana = posture)

Last winter, I faced surgery that I knew would derail my yoga practice for months to come. After twelve years, I had built a pretty solid physical practice; the time had come to see if I could take all that I had learned and practice it off of my mat as well.

Could I breathe through the pain of recovery, of uncertainty, of wildly fluctuating emotions? Could I be present in this body each moment as it healed at its own pace? Could I find balance when an unexpected complication cropped up, which was far more difficult than wobbling through that airplane or tree or gentleman’s squat?

When I returned to yoga, I had to start all over again. Accustomed to a strong vinyasa practice, I found myself in better backs classes with instructions from my doctor to avoid certain poses and movements. And yet after complete immobility, I was so delighted to be back on my mat, I took it as slowly as he had advised me to; I did not want to take a chance on ending back in the operating room.

Maybe you are new to yoga. You are pregnant. Your body is recovering from childbirth or surgery.  You have sustained an injury. Maybe you’ve been in a car accident. Maybe you slept crookedly or not at all. Perhaps you fought with your boss or your spouse or your teen. Maybe money is tight. Or you’re on the second day of a migraine because it’s been raining all week. Maybe you have a cold. Or today, you just feel off. And so you show up on your mat, and you struggle with a pose that the rest of the class can do with ease (you sneaked a peek!), or a pose challenges you that you have always done with grace, with simplicity, with joy. Frustration eats at you. You try harder, but the asana keeps slipping away. Your monkey mind chastises you: What’s wrong with me?

Let me tell you a secret. Despite the glossy magazines at the checkout, despite the Instagram yogis, despite your instructor who seems to have mastered every pose imaginable, there is no perfect asana. You may have noticed that many of the asanas reflect nature: tree, frog, downward and upward facing dog, cat / cow, fish, crow, lotus, etc. There is no perfect tree in nature; there is no perfect tree pose in yoga.

The asanas are only one of the eight limbs of yoga; B.K.S. Iyengar notes that by practicing asanas, “In the beating of his pulse and the rhythm of his respiration, [the yogi] recognizes the flow of the seasons and the throbbing of universal life.” We must learn to recognize the flow of our seasons in our own bodies and work with them, not force ourselves into some warped version of a “perfect asana.”

As Henry David Thoreau notes, “Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present.” Greet yourself where you are.


B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Cat Yoga Pic:   

Tree picture: