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Perfectionism is something I have struggled with throughout my life. Sure, perfectionism can help us reach our goals and accomplishments. However, when things don’t go the way we want them to, it can feed feelings of stress and failure.
At age 8, I began dreaming of one day playing in the NFL. Later, that dream turned into an obsession that I was going to achieve at all costs. I beat up my body with relentless overtraining. I abused my mind and spirit, believing that the only way to be happy was with a long, successful career in the NFL.
After my senior year at the University of Pittsburgh, I signed my first NFL contract, with the Detroit Lions. Five months later, I was cut. The following year I landed a contract with the Indianapolis Colts. After three months, I was let go due to an injury. Next, I signed with the New York Jets. But after another injury, that team cut me too.
As I bounced between teams for years, I ignored the pain from my chronic injuries and kept fighting to keep my career going. As I struggled throughout my NFL life, I told myself I was a failure. At times I found myself counting change to pay for gas, struggling to support my wife and child, and I felt that I was letting my family down.
In the meantime, my wife Karen was growing her yoga practice and had become a teacher. Repeatedly, she’d urge me to try it, pointing out that the movements and compassionate approach would help my body and soul. Rather than listen, I continued toward rock bottom. Eventually, my NFL career crashed, and so did I. The day I realized I had nothing left to lose was the day I decided to take Karen’s advice.
Practicing yoga saved me. It jump-started a cascade of self-discovery, and the more I practiced, the more my understanding of and connection to myself grew. I learned how to control my fears, self-doubts, and worries, instead of letting them control me. I let go of my need to be perfect. Soon I began to see my failures as opportunities. Each had led me to a new path, including yoga.
A yoga practice is just that, a practice. It is not about perfecting anything. When we strive for flawlessness in yoga and in life, we are trying too hard. We end up stressing and straining our bodies and minds. Perfectionism can damage our self-esteem, affect our health, and put excessive pressure on our relationships.
The following sequence will help you find balance and release the nagging need to be perfect. It strengthens your arms, core, and mind while relieving tension and cultivating softness. It is a practice of challenging yourself while being gentle on yourself.
10 Poses to Release Perfectionism and Boost Inner Peace
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Set the tone for your practice by starting slow and committing to your breath and your intention. Kneel down on your mat, spread your knees wide and release your torso down, allowing your forehead to rest on your mat or on a prop, if that feels better for your body. Take 10 deep breaths.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Place your palms down, shoulder width apart or further apart if that feels better. Spread your fingers wide. Set your feet hip-width distance apart. Press your thighs back as you reach your hips up and back, creating an inverted “V” shape with your body. If you have tight hamstrings or back issues, bend your knees. Set your eyes to one point. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
Virabhadrasana I Variation (Warrior Pose I with Garudasana/Eagle Arms)
Step your right foot forward. Turn your back foot in 45 to 60 degrees. Bring your heels into one line. Firm the muscles of your back leg to your bones. Pull your front hip back. Relax your shoulder blades down your back. Wrap your left arm under your right. If you feel tight in your upper body, cross your arms and place your hands on your shoulders. Hold for 5–10 breaths. Repeat on your left side.
Unwind from Warrior Pose I and step back into Downward Dog. Roll your body out into a Plank. If you have an injury or you are still building strength, place your knees down. Stack your shoulders over your wrists and try to keep your hips and shoulders on the same line as you draw your front body in toward your back body. Press the floor away from you with your hands and feet, lift your upper thighs slightly, and lengthen your tailbone. Soften your upper back. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
Makara Adho Mukha Svanasana (Forearm Plank Pose)
Stay in Plank, but release your forearms down by placing your elbows where your hands were. Pull your belly up and in. Lift your thighs up. Soften your shoulder blades down your back. Relax your jaw. Resist the temptation to “fight” the pose. Keep breathing. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
Salamba Bhujangasana (Sphinx Pose)
Place your belly on the floor with forearms flat and elbows under your shoulders. Soften your upper back muscles as you curl your chest up and away from the floor. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
Salabhasana (Locust Pose)
Reach your hands back as you lift your chest, head, and feet away from the floor. Firm your thighs toward your midline to activate core stability and support. Go for length as you draw your chest forward and reach your toes back. Gaze down, and keep your neck long and free. Hold for 5–10 breaths
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Release onto your back. Set your feet hip width apart and parallel. Stack your knees over your ankles. Press your feet down and your thighs up. Interlace your fingers and push your forearms down. Using a block under your sacrum offers more support for your low back and hips. Hold for 5–10 breaths.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Lie on your back with your eyes closed. Surrender to gravity and to this moment. Stay for at least 5 minutes.
Non-Judgement Mindfulness Seated Meditation
This meditation, practiced regularly, can help you shift your mindset. Instead of searching for the things that didn’t work out that you think you need to fix, over time you will cultivate positive affirmations. They will allow you to:
● Experience self-compassion and non-judgement.
● Remind yourself to not take everything so seriously.
● Perhaps even celebrate your accomplishments.
Sit as comfortably as possible. Cross-legged, on your knees, or any fashion that works for you. You can use a cushion or blanket. Sit up tall.
- Focus on your breath for three minutes. Breathe softly. Be aware of your inhales and exhales.
- After a few minutes, take a long deep breath and then let it go out your mouth. Repeat.
- Bring your attention to the area around your chest and heart. Soften. Breathe.
- Place your hand on your heart
- Say to yourself “peace, harmony, laughter, and love” to yourself. (You can stay here up to three minutes)
See also A Sequence for Feeling Empowered