The Four Agreements: How to Achieve Your Personal Best On and Off the Mat

Yoga is a vehicle for change. And so is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
Change happens even when we stand still and do nothing. But when we idly stand by, we don’t have any say or influence – we are a passive witness.
Taking conscious action provokes the kind of changes that lead us toward beauty, and help us let go of the personal hell that’s caused by gossip, false beliefs, and the continued habits that cause our suffering.
The Four Agreements offer a solution to these issues. Toltec Wisdom is the basis of these agreements, and applying the principles that stem from this wisdom will lead us toward fuller, richer, and more aware lives. These agreements offer a life filled with gratitude and delight, versus pain and remorse.
Sounds incredible, right? And it is! When you read the agreements, they seem obvious, and make total sense on the surface. But then you begin the practice and it’s clear just how difficult it is to undo the ideas we’ve spent a lifetime cultivating.
Here are the infamous four agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Take nothing personally
  3. Assume nothing
  4. Always do your best

This is the final installment of this article series. Please click on the previous agreements if you haven’t read the first three articles. Now, we will dissect the fourth and final agreement. It’s application will completely shift your yoga practice.

Agreement #4: Always do your best

This fourth and final agreement provides a platform that we should apply to the first three agreements to help them become new habits. The concept of always doing your best is all about the actions of the first three agreements.
Our actions in every yoga pose – no matter how dynamic or seemingly simple – will feel noticeably fresh if we are doing our absolute best.
It’s crucial to understand that our “best” changes from moment to moment. Our best is defined by all of the other influences and circumstances going on in our lives. Your best when you wake up feeling well-rested and excited about the day is going to be an elevated version of your best when you’ve got a cold, or you’ve received difficult news.
Your very best when you’re interacting with a person (or yoga pose) you really enjoy is quite different than your best dealing with someone (or that damn pose you despise) who provokes some of your less-than-appealing qualities.
Nevertheless, continue to do your very best based on what you’re experiencing in a given situation. No more, and no less. If you over-effort – straining for your “best” to be better – you’ll end up exhausted and frustrated.
Yet worst of all, the goal you’ve been aiming for will take longer, or seem simply unobtainable. This results in guilt, judgment, and regret. It’s certainly not a marvelous or productive way to spend our time.

If we each can be satisfied with accepting what our best actually is, then we can abandon judging ourselves. This is so very freeing! And I choose this word intentionally, because letting go of the impulse for perfection is very freeing indeed.
When a beginner yogi witnesses someone executing a very complicated yoga posture with complete ease and grace, and believes her “best” should be the same best as that other yogi, the result is that she suffers endlessly and believes untrue ideas about her own practice.
Let’s examine two yoga poses where doing your best can yield enormous benefits whether performed to the most difficult degree or not . . .

Bakasana (Crow Pose)

The first time I saw Crow pose taught in a yoga class, I was straight up pissed! The teacher, a very strong and bendy fellow, was demonstrating the pose, and my thought was, “Um, he’s crazy and there is no way anyone will be able to do this.”
P.S. I was the only person in a class of about twenty who couldn’t do it. Can you relate? As yoga students, we can all relate to my experience in one pose or another.
Doing our best when it comes to something complicated like an arm balance means to meet the yoga pose where you are. How do you approach a daunting pose you’ve never done? Doing our best also means approaching something differently on the next try after identifying what the problem is when something doesn’t work.
Do you ask questions if the instructions don’t make sense? Do you continue to practice, or do you just give up if it doesn’t go your way the first time? Your best will continue to change the longer you’ve been doing a given pose and the more you learn about both the posture and yourself.
Suggested Read: Crow Pose Tutorial with Variations

Hanumanasana (Full Splits)

Oy. This posture requires incredibly loose hamstrings, groins, and thighs. That’s a whole lot going on at once!
Taking the approach of doing your best, instead of trying to force yourself into this deep stretch if you’re not ready, ask yourself – how is your alignment? If it’s off, then so is the pose. And if you know that any or all of these areas in your body are tight, are you open-minded enough to use blocks under the front leg and possibly both hands?
When a student is convinced they just have to get that front thigh to the ground, it’s damn likely an injury is in their future. Doing our best means to respect any given parameters that exist, and finding satisfaction with a gentle, compassionate variation of a pose that works for our bodies.
Suggested read: Learn How to Do the Splits (Tutorial)

The Takeaway

When we do our best, we feel content, happy, and full of confidence in the knowledge that our best is perfect, and doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s “best” (who are we to judge that, anyway?!).
When we don’t judge ourselves because we are damn certain we did our best, we stop the endless self-loathing. In it’s place comes a peaceful knowledge that doing our best is more than enough. It’s everything.
Try this approach in your next practice. See what happens, and pretty please share it here with us in the comments below!

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Lara Falberg

Lara has been teaching yoga since 2006, trained in Atlanta, now residing in Columbus Ohio. Her website is a yoga teacher resource offering verbals cues, mini sequences, class themes, and studio reviews. Her novel Yoga Train is about a group of people who travel through the yoga teacher training experience together. Follow her on Instagram (@iworkbarefoot), Facebook and Twitter.


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