Perfectly Imperfect – Wisdom in a Small Package
By: Mary Von Ahnen, Co-Owner, Horizon Hot Yoga
Perfectly Imperfect, by Baron Baptiste, was published in May 2016. Not only was it not hot off the presses when I bought a copy, but I didn’t know much about Baptiste Yoga either. Several hours spent on this tiny book packed with wisdom has changed my view of my yoga practice. I hope this article, giving my perspective on some of the most powerful points in this book, will help change yours too…and cause you to pick up a copy. Yogis at any stage of practice, with a focus on any type of yoga, will enjoy Baron’s views on our imperfect selves and the absolute perfection in honoring those imperfect selves we have.
First a bit about Baptiste yoga. Baptiste Power Vinyasa (BPV) yoga is a type of hot power yoga. It was developed by Baron Baptiste and focuses his methods on asana (poses), meditation, and self-inquiry. It is intended to be adaptable to any level of physical ability. Baptiste was highly influenced by the teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar and Bikram Choudhury.
By the mid-1990s, Baptiste had synthesized these teachings, along with influences from Ashtanga and T.K.V. Desikachar (founder of Viniyoga and son of Krishnamacharya) into his own style of power yoga based on five pillars.
1. Breath: The primary pranayama used in BPV is ujjayi, which is associated with a strong vinyasa practice. In ujjayi breath, you tone or constrict the back of your throat (as you would when fogging up a mirror) as you inhale and exhale through your nose. This takes some practice but soon becomes second nature. It has the effect of slowing down the breath to keep it deep and powerful during challenging postures. When the breath becomes short and shallow, it can trigger the fight or flight panic reflexes in the body. Keeping the breath long and deep helps you stay calm.
2. Heat: In official BPV classes, the room should be heated to 90 to 95 degrees. This external heating of the room is intended to allow students to quickly stoke their internal fires (tapas) for a loose, sweaty practice.
3. Flow: Flow is vinyasa style practice in which movement is linked to breath. Daily practice is encouraged. While there isn’t a fixed series of poses in BPV, there is a pattern that most classes follow. Classes begin with several rounds of surya namaskara A and B, although there is room for some variation. Then the teacher moves to a standing series that includes vinyasa flow between sides. More advanced variations are offered in addition to adaptations for beginners. Classes often also include abdominal work, backbending, and hip opening.
4. Gaze: Drishti means looking at a particular place while doing yoga poses. It is an important part of Ashtanga yoga, where drishtis are taught as part of the alignment for each pose. In BPV, the gaze is not specific for each posture. Instead, students are directed to fix their attention on any point that doesn’t move and to keep their eyes soft as a way to turn their attention away from what’s going on externally around them and bring their focus inward.
5. Core Stabilization: Core stabilization is uddiyana bandha. In BPV, this means the constant drawing in of the belly button towards the spine. This is done throughout the practice, but the belly is not completely hollowed until the ribs protrude. It is intended to provide support by engaging the core for balance and strength.
Now about the book. Perfectly Imperfect is not written just for Baptiste Yoga practitioners. It is written for all yogis (and by extension, has application in life, as you carry your practices into every experience you have).
The crux of this book is about what goes on for you after the pose…what Baron calls the receiving pose. He asks you to consider what stops you or inspires you. And a central question…what would happen if you completely altered how the pose occurs for you, and through the pose were able to transform how life shows up for you? Through a mindful focus on the receiving pose, you can create a whole new paradigm for yourself. The book shows you, in expertly crafted script, how to dig deep to make the most of your receiving pose moments, and how this new understanding can alter your life.
The foundation of driving change is a concept Baron calls True North Alignment. He describes this as “the state of holistic integration in which your body, mind, breath, and life energy are wholly united and aimed into your greater purpose.” Baron believes this is the goal of yoga. To achieve True North Alignment, you must believe that the knowledge you need to live an extraordinary life is within you. Baron uses these beautiful words to describe this. “Yoga is a practice of uncovering, not of building. It’s the ultimate excavation tool of the soul.”
Although yoga can “fix” many things (physically, emotionally, spiritually), the deeper aim of the practice is not to solve problems because there is really nothing to fix. True North Alignment is the space in which your entire life occurs.
One of the most impactful chapters of the book for me was “The Dance of Yes and No”. “Yes” carries the energy of possibility; “no” carries the energy of resistance. This dance exists for your lifetime. “Yes” and “no” balance each other…making a particular choice for “yes” automatically makes you a “no” for something else. For example, if you decide you want to live a healthy lifestyle, that is a yes for things like a regular yoga practice and healthful eating. It is a no for eating junk food or sitting on your couch all day. The only way you can impact your practice, and your life, is through making active decisions for what will be a “yes” in your life. When you are “yes” for what’s possible in your practice, you will expand. And you will be able to say “no” to things that get in the way of the positive decisions you are making.
Baron also has an interesting perspective on what he calls “a practice that works and a practice that matters”. The “Dance of Yes and No” is critical to taking your practice beyond just what works. Your challenge is to recognize that just because you’ve gotten your practice to a place that works for you emotionally and physically doesn’t necessarily mean that it matters. A practice that matters is tied to something deeper: the powerful, spiritual energy of “yes”.
The slogan “begin again” is an important concept in Baron’s book. He sees it as a way to shift away from resistance and distraction and return to your true aim in the pose. Through “begin again”, you become empowered and able to dissolve what stands in your way. You can press the reset button and begin anew through these three concepts:
- Be a yes
- Give up what you must (the stories in your head); accept that things are where they are supposed to be
- You are ready now – to awaken, to be open, etc.
I found this “begin again” concept to be a very hopeful one, and something I apply in life as well as yoga. To know that I don’t have to wallow in the past and can “begin again” at any time gives tremendous freedom.
“The Cosmic Joke” is another chapter in the book that particularly struck me. Baron says that you have likely built your life paradigms around something that someone once told you, or that you came to believe about yourself, and it sticks with you. Maybe it’s that you are not strong, or not lovable, or nothing works out for you. These deep-rooted beliefs feel like the truth, but they are not. The truth is that you have come to believe the negative thoughts. “The Cosmic Joke” is that the negativity itself is not true. And you’ve based your life upon what you feel is The Truth About You. You are reacting to the past, to ghosts, to stuff that isn’t even here today. Baron asserts that you also project The Truth About You onto things that haven’t even happened yet. In doing this, you block yourself off from experiences or situations that could be wonderful because you have already decided they aren’t going to work out.
The book wraps up with a concept that strengthens Baron’s original message of True North Alignment and the receiving pose. He titled the chapter “Strive Not to Arrive”. In cliche terms, I interpreted this as yoga is a journey, not a destination. Mastery of the form of a pose (getting “there”), or doing more, is not the ultimate goal. Full revelation of your aliveness and humanity is. The book drew a great analogy to this concept. A carpenter uses tools to build something that brings forth the intended result. If the focus becomes how to use the tools instead of why use the tools, the big picture gets lost. When you think you’ve arrived, it is typically because you think you understand something. But when you’ve really mastered something, instead of you doing it, it does you. Getting to this point requires a lot of mindfulness. Buddha compares life to a wheel because most of us live our lives with things habitually repeating themselves. If you mechanically repeat the same form of the poses, your practice will go stale as boredom sets in. Most yogis hit this wall at some point. Outside of this repetitious rut is where you will find nirvana. Baron states that Savasana is where it all comes together, if you are living a mindful life and viewing yoga as something to be lived, not “arrived at”.
The essence of Savasana is simple:
- Here is where it is
- Now is when it is
- You are what it is
Savasana is the purest expression of full presence. Savasana is not the end of your practice. It is actually a new beginning. But to experience this, you must have a breakthrough in acceptance, from “doing ‘nothing’ can’t be it” to “this is it”. You are opening your heart to your own wisdom. You are knowing and being yourself, unfiltered, unencumbered, and unburdened.
This short article can’t impart all the lessons Baron brought to me in Perfectly Imperfect. He does a wonderful job in the book of sharing his own personal stories and the beautiful journey he is on with not only his own yoga practice but also the work he does with other yogis. I hope this review has piqued your interest. Pick up a copy of the book to go deeper!
About the Book Review:
The Review was written by Mary Von Ahen. She is the Co-Owner of Horizon Hot Yoga in Frisco. The studio features many classes, workshops with international yogis and a positive community environment. Mary is also a Staff Writer for Dallas Yoga Magazine. You can reach her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org