I've been practicing yoga now for about 10 years.
I've got a teaching certificate that states I spent a month living the life of a monk and have mastered to an elementary (and completely arbitrary) level, certain aspects of the yogic tradition ... including something called 'asana' (which in my vocabulary roughly translates to falling on my face out of various poses ... ).
Now, 'asana' (the physical movements of yoga) is very often mistaken for being 'yoga' in its whole form and a great deal of emphasis is placed (especially with us Western wonder balls) on the bodily movement (the asana) with little consideration given to rest of the practice ... which only makes up the other 80% ... (sarcasm people, even yogi's do it) ... we seem to have taken the practice of 'asana' and manipulated it to fit in with our egotistical desires ... namely, obtaining perfect poses for glory.
I gotta tell ya ... I'm a sucker for this too so it's really not like I'm writing this post all sanctimoniously, in fact I could actually be writing this to myself so bugger off, you lot ... this is between me, myself and I!
I have been known to force my poor body into all sorts of weird shapes just to show off, only to hobble back to my mat courageously muttering ... 'I'm OK ... I'm OK, I meant to do that ... no worries **whimper** kill meeeeee' ... before eventually realising that I wasn't doing yoga in any sense of the word ... I was doing gymnastics, without being young and bendy ... so I was basically just flopping around, trying to look cool and do a perfect asana ... Ohhh ego, my old friend, there you are!
In order to be actually 'doing yoga' if that is even possible (you can be 'doing yoga' whilst you wash the windows, or read a book ... physical movement is not a prerequisite, folks and in some practices it's actually mandatory that you sit still ... bear that in mind will ya, next time you try to tie your legs in a knot around your neck after 1 session of power yoga, you silly ballbag!), you need to be;
a) BREATHING!!! Super important part of yoga (and in case it had gone unnoticed, life in general). Not breathing is baaaad. Holding your breath is baaaaad. Slow deep breaths that ideally sync with your movement is goooooood.
b) NOT IN PAIN!! Again, a huge portion of us have been trained by various fitness regimes that you have to 'blast through the pain', 'ignore your limits' and the worst one I have ever heard ... 'you are at WAR with your body' ... NOOOOOOO, what a terrible thing to say!!
Stop it and go home you bad teacher! Yoga is never meant to be painful and damn straight it ain't no war ... it can become uncomfortable ... but you should never (and I repeat, again in block, italicised capitals just so that I can really feel like I shouted it) .... NEVER, be in pain. Pain can be described in yoga as sharp pain anygoddamwhere, pulling or crunching sensations around the joints, electric or intense burning. There can be some stretch and your muscles can get a bit warm but you should never have your face screwed up and you should never be holding your breath .... if you are there ... you are too far gone, lovely ... reel it back in a notch or two.
c) HAVING FUN!! You should come out of a good yoga session feeling lighter, more comfortable in your own body with a sense of clarity and unity. You may (depending on the style of class you have taken) feel worked and be a bit sweaty too! Nice :-)
Anyway, here's the crux of the matter ... an asana is always a work in progress ... it is never perfect, no matter how well you can do it and you will always find micro-adjustments you can make ... some of them are just work for another part ... in order to successfully balance on your hands for example, you need strength in your belly and your back, you need to be able to feel where your weight is on the ground and you need to have overcome the fear of falling ... and that is where we come to it ...
Fear of falling ...
Everybody falls ... everybody ... srs, I mean it everybody ... Yup, even the big yoga star that you follow on Instagram or Facebook that always posts the 'perfect' asana pictures (usually against sunset, palm tree type settings ... bastards). Personally, I have once fallen on my face so hard I scraped my forehead and gave myself a black eye, ensuring that the old ladies in the supermarket gave me pitying looks wondering what the bad man was doing to me. (Kinda, goes against the being in pain thing, right? Yeah, I'm realising this as I write it ... perhaps I should go back to handing out burgers ... sorry folks).
But don't worry! You can learn to fall safely (more on that later) and you can laugh and you can get right back up again, steady your breath, come back your wonderful self and try again ... and again ... and again ... and again ... and again ... and ... er, you get the point ...
In time, things improve and you WILL (without a shadow of a doubt) get better and better and you will fall less and less ... and one day, who knows, you might even be able to do a handstand. But that is not the goal right now ... the goal right now is just to breathe, listen to yourself and have fun!
You are awesome and completely whole just the way you are ... so STOP trying to be perfect goddamit and realise ...
You already are!