I’ve been practicing yoga for 25 years and teaching for 15 years. And I’m a long way from being a guru.
I’ve got plenty of diplomas, degrees and postgraduate qualifications as well as many thousands of hours of experience. But the gaps in my knowledge are as wide as the ocean.
And that’s a good thing. For two reasons.
1. Nobody, NOBODY ever knows everything there is to know about everything. It’s just fine to do your best and be honest about what you don’t know or can’t do. I’m not perfect. Not even close.
2. There will always be somebody with more expertise than you. When you get comfortable with not knowing everything, a whole delicious world of collaboration opens up.
As a yoga teacher, these two things (being ok with not knowing it all and recognizing there are a whole bunch of people who know more than I do) could be the biggest gift I have to offer my students. Here's why.
I meet a lot students who defer their happiness until they reach some imaginary place of all-round perfection and proficiency. They put off their passion projects until they feel totally ready. But you never feel totally ready.
Not only am I inexpert at yoga, my expertise in parenting, partnering and being a good human being is pretty patchy too. But I keep on going, one foot in front of the other. And that’s what I try to model for my students. How to avoid getting hung up on being perfect and concentrate instead on doing what you can with the wisdom and resources you have in the moment. And then let it go.
Patanjali, the ancient sage who wrote a text 2,000 years ago that defines our understanding of yoga today, talks about this process. He offers us the ‘Three Pillars’ of yoga: Tapas, Swadhyaya and Ishwarapranidana.
Tapas is discipline – it’s the effort and restraint that we need to develop in order to keep walking the yogic path. From keeping up your daily asana practice to behaving ethically, Tapas is the burning effort that keeps us putting one foot in front of the other.
Swadhyaya is self reflection. It’s the process of observing how we think, feel and act but without analyzing, criticisizing or justifying what we observe. It’s doing what you can with the wisdom and resources of the moment.
Ishwarapranidana is an act of surrender. It’s recognizing that, ultimately, we don’t have control over the outcomes of our actions. So, you do what you can, you keep on going and then you let go because you can’t control the results.
Practicing Tapas, Swadhyaya and Ishwarapranidana helps us stay present to where we are right now, and be just fine with whatever that is. There’s no need to defer your life until that mythical future time when you’ve mastered everything.
While nobody’s perfect, there are plenty of people who are closer to ‘perfection’ than I am. And recognizing that doesn’t make me feel inadequate or dispirited. It inspires and excites me because, by working in collaboration with those people, my students and I get to enrich our learning experience in ways that I could never achieve alone.
All of the professional trainings at Adore Yoga are the result of collaboration. I would never, ever pretend that I’m the best person to study yoga with. But by working in collaboration with others, we can co-create something that is so much greater than I could produce alone.
Being imperfect, inexperienced and, sometimes, plain ignorant, is a gift because it propels me to learn from people who are achieving greatness in different and important areas of knowledge. Together we share, learn and grow.
I’m so proud of the team at Adore Yoga – proud of the skills of each individual person and proud of the collective wisdom that we create between us. None of us knows everything, but that doesn’t provoke the kind of soul-searching paralysis that afflicts the perfectionist. Instead, we pool our knowledge and, like a rich and complex mosaic, create diverse and beautiful patterns that are much, much greater than the sum of their parts.
There is never one definitive way of doing things. There is no single style of yoga that has all the answers for every person. There is no mortal teacher who embodies all the wisdom of the universe and can transmit it in a way that is understood and accepted by everyone. Be skeptical of anybody who tells you otherwise.
So, what are you waiting for? Perfection is an illusion and collaboration uplifts everyone who contributes. Connect and learn from one another. Practice Tapas, Swadhyaya and Ishwarapranidana: keep putting one foot in front of the other, notice the inner critic and then surrender the whole lot to the unfathomable wisdom of the universe.
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.