When I started practicing yoga (asanas) several years ago (back in my callow, more flexible youth), I fell in love with something I read in Yoga Journal:
“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice is perfect.”
The process is the goal. The goal is the process. Improvement and measurable “results” are secondary. Even if my eka pada rajakapotasana never looks like this, the fact that I’m putting my full attention into it and working on it properly means that I’m doing it right, and more importantly, that I’m doing all right. It’s not that it’s bad to have goals, and yes, I’d like to be able to get all the way back in this pose, but the point is the full attention, the loving practice, the honoring of both my capabilities and my limitations. The lifelong practice is the goal, not the aesthetic appearance of a particular pose–after all, do people stop practicing yoga once they are able to get fully into a pose?
This was a concept that I immediately and eagerly applied to my practice of music. Unlike a composer or a theorist, music is always an activity for me, a daily practice, making art that wouldn’t exist if I wasn’t physically doing it. In that way it’s very similar to a yoga practice. I do have to be at least a little goal-oriented; as a professional it is imperative that I am able to perform at a certain level, but the focus on process is something that I think all successful musicians understand intuitively. If there wasn’t something inherently rewarding about the process of practicing, we would all go crazy.
I started telling my students: “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice is perfect.” I also started telling them what my yoga teacher taught me about patience: for beginners, it can be helpful to practice virasana while sitting on a block, and only over time attempting to sit all the way down to the floor. His advice? Practice virasana for ten minutes while sitting on a phone book. Every day, tear out one page.
Can you see where I’m going with this?