by Kim Manfredi
I am broken and that's OK ... because we all are.
When I was 18, I broke my spine in four different places. But now at 50, with partial paralysis in my right leg and severe immobility in my back, I run seven successful yoga studios, train yoga teachers year round and move my body every day. I have not overcome my injuries, I am my injuries and my brokenness is what makes me ... me.
When I embrace who I really am, that's when true happiness occurs.
Here are five ways to embrace imperfection, to help you realize the perfect being that you truly are:
1. Love your imperfect body. This is where the heart lives.
It has become clear throughout the quest to overcome my injury, that it's never going to fully happen. No matter how good I am, no matter how hard or often I practice, and no matter how many workshops I take — I am just not going to be able to bend my spine.
The miracle of this realization is the recognition that my heart lives in this imperfect body. Embracing my body has helped me to learn how much pushing and striving is not only valuable, but also highly destructive. I've learned the incredible value of accepting and embracing my body during any practice, and that it creates safety, health and compassion.
Dwelling in my imperfect body has made me a more understanding teacher. Had my body been perfect (whatever that means) how would I have ever known these places of love?
2. Have fun with your imperfect mind. This is where freedom lives.
If only I could do a backbend, then I would be happy.
When I first started practicing yoga I read the book How Can I Help by Ram Dass. He explained how the "wounded healer" is effective at helping others. I realized that healing from my back injury has enabled me to help others heal. My brokenness is what makes me REALLY valuable and of service to others.
I can see now that the charade of moving past my injuries is a denial of who I truly am. I am not being truthful with the needs of my body when I deny that I require special care. Getting enough rest and practicing modifications in yoga had once existed only in the realm of failure, to me. I became proficient at judging myself — laziness, not good enough, not hard enough.
I was creating my own suffering instead of enjoying and accepting my body as it is. My body requires ease. When I learned to embrace the imperfections not only in my body but also in my thinking, I can see where I keep myself bound and then I can set myself free.
3. Be imperfect in action. This is where the ability to help others lives.
I regularly have tape on my shoulder and am currently trying a new lift inside of my right shoe. I managed to hurt my rotator cuff when I changed my practice to protect my back. I had challenged myself with handstands, but I hurt my shoulder because there is no give in my back and my joints don't like to go beyond their limits.
My teacher has always said that although our actions are imperfect, you still must act anyway. And despite my limitations, my practice is an exploration. When move my body I can find space in my joints, strength in my muscles and ease in my mind. But along that journey of exploration I can still sometimes make mistakes. I understand that sometimes I get it right, while other times I get it wrong. Sometimes I injure myself practicing yoga, sometimes I injure myself taking a walk. And once while laying over a bolster, I injured myself by banging my head as I stood up! I am imperfect in my actions but I still get up each day and move.
This movement is the momentum of my life. When I help students practice yoga, I remember my own mistakes. I look at my own actions and the fearlessness, curiosity and enthusiasm required to keep me on the path. All action is imperfect and inaction is action. So smile and take action in order to help others learn and grow.
4. Be imperfect in speech. This is where inspiration lives.
The first time I studied with Mathew Sanford he said something that touched me: "If you are in the present moment, happiness arises." He went on to say, "Being in a wheel chair isn't that great, I just make it look great." I was completely overcome — the power of what he said shook me.
As a paralyzed yoga practitioner for 18 years, he is imperfect and is continuing to working with that. And it's his imperfections that are his tools for teaching. His voice is so full of light, life, hope and promise. He inspired me. I recognized that real, authentic speech arises when we share our imperfection— when we share who we really are.
Each day when I work on my lectures and my blog posts, I hear their imperfections. And I listen to myself with an open heart. This practice gives me the inspiration to write and speak again tomorrow. If I said everything perfectly, then what would be left to share?
5. Enjoy your imperfect life. This is where happiness lives.
I'll say it again: We are all broken. I have experienced great happiness since I surrendered to my injuries. And I want you to find a way to embrace your brokenness, too. I want you to spread your wings and flop around on the floor in an ecstatic dance of imperfection. It is only in this embodiment that we can make space for whom we really are.
Because only then can we make room for the imperfections of others. I will never achieve backbends or forward folds as a result of persistence and perseverance, but I do live as a unique being in a diverse world, where everyone has a place and our value is not dependent upon anything. I am happy and perfectly imperfect.