Kintsugi Wisdom: Embracing the Imperfections in Your Practice

Written By Kristi Stotts
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“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” 
– Ernest Hemingway

Kintsugi (金継ぎ “golden joinery”) is the Japanese art of repairing cracks in broken pottery using a precious metal – either liquid gold/silver or lacquer dusted with powdered gold. Rather than attempting to create a seamless, hidden repair, kintsugi highlights the crack, celebrating the destruction and subsequent restoration. With cracks visible to all, each piece of kintsugi pottery stands as a testament to its damage, to its history, to its fault lines. Imagine embracing yourself, and your yoga practice, with this same honesty.

Much importance is placed on progressing in our yoga practice. This is particularly true in terms of asana (poses) but the ideas of improving and seeking weave their way through much of the language around meditation and mindfulness as well. We set goals, celebrate milestones, commend improvement. We want those good vibes only, you know? All to good ends, all in the name of the practice. But at what cost?

All of this focus on getting better or more consistent, all of this good vibe chasing creates expectations and pressures for more forward movement. And, I would argue, a desire to hide our cracks. Rather than continuing this cycle, you can choose a more honest path. Find an approach that allows for the mistakes, that celebrates the failures as strong foundations, that lets the growth shine because of the golden threads of imperfection that hold it together. Here’s how to cultivate this mindset for yourself:

  • Shut down comparison. Your practice is your own, not another’s. You cannot fit in their box. Rather than holding a certain level of practice as a standard to aspire to, hold your own practice close and nurture it. The growth will come naturally this way, and it will be authentically yours.
  • Come to your mat with honesty each day. Check in. How are you today, in this moment? Maybe yesterday you felt strong and fluid but today may not be like that. Today you may feel slow and stuck. So that’s where you practice from. Maybe yesterday your mind felt calm and steady during your meditation but today you are too anxious to concentrate. So today will be different. Today maybe you do less, or try something different. (Or skip it. You can also skip it. You can break your streak! I promise the practice will forgive you. I promise you can come back to it tomorrow.) Be true to what you need. Each practice will be different.
  • Stop the narratives that only value progress. Seek out teachers that offer options, that meet you where you are at, that celebrate every single version of a posture and teach to all levels. Be mindful of the “challenges” you commit to and the aspirational content that you read, watch, or listen to. Is there room for softness and ease found there?
  • Replace judgement with curiosity. Remind yourself that when you fall, when you cannot bind your hands behind your back, when you lose your place or take a break – you are learning, you are growing. The growth comes from the journey of your practice. We all fall. The work is, can you fall without letting it throw you into self doubt? When you get up, when you try again, do so without judgement but with a curious mind. Ask yourself: What happened there? How could that feel better in my body?
  • All vibes only. Create space in your practice and your heart for all of your emotions and thoughts. Yogis have a reputation for looking on the bright side and being full of love and light. But. You are a human. You will be in a bad mood sometimes. You will have bad days. Your heart will be broken or you’ll be distracted or you’ll be angry without even knowing why. You can still practice. It might even help. And if it doesn’t, that’s ok too. Don’t try to fake it, don’t try to hide your emotions or mend your cracks so no one can see them. Just breathe and move the way that you need to, with all of your vibes, just as they really are.

Above all, let your cracks show, friends. Come to your practice with your imperfections on display. Your practice will be more real, raw, and transformative. My favorite way to end a class is with the parting words “every part of me bows to every part of you”. It’s my way of saying “I see your cracks and I’ll show you mine. I’m here for your good vibes and your bad. I’m here for all of you.” Come as you are, with all of your gold showing through the cracks. And we’ll move together as imperfect beings, with our hearts open and our fault lines exposed.