Let me be clear: I’m not anti-yoga.
I love Lululemon stretchy pants and chill music and positive affirmations as much as the next lady.
But when my doctor advised me to stop running for a few months and switch to something low-impact, like yoga, I was not exactly thrilled.
I’ve tried a few yoga classes in the past and for whatever reason, it’s just never been my favorite thing. Too slow. Too boring. Great for some people. Just not my jam.
But I figured, “What have I got to lose? Who knows, maybe yoga will help my hamstring and back issues…” so I trundled myself over to a new to me yoga studio to give things a try.
As luck would have it, my very first yoga class was a total blast. Great vibe. Fantastic teacher. Fun energy. My tight hamstrings felt better right away, after just one session.
I knew, immediately, “This is my kind of yoga. I get it now. I’m a believer.”
Perfectly balanced and statuesque, with gazelle-like grace and beauty? Not so much.
Throughout my first several classes, I found myself grunting, moaning, teetering and toppling through all the unfamiliar poses. I wasn’t alone, either. Quite a few people in the room looked just like me: awkward and annoyed. (“Why can’t I get it RIIIIGHT?”)
That’s when the yoga teacher said a word I’d never heard before:
(Pronounced: Zow Gow. Rhymes with: Wow Pow.)
“It means ‘Messy Cake’,” Mister Yoga Dude explained to us, while we were wobbling unsteadily in Eagle Pose. “It’s a Chinese expression. People in China say ‘Zao Gao’ at times when we might say ‘Shit’ or ‘Damn’ or ‘Fuck’!”
He went on to explain that, in certain parts of China, if someone drops something, makes a mistake, trips goofily, or does something clumsy, they say, “Zao Gao!”
“It’s a kinder way of saying, ‘Oops! I’m not perfect!” without being so hard on yourself,” he said.
I walked out of the class thinking about the concept of Messy Cake, and thinking about all of the ways it can apply to our everyday lives.
It’s OK if your yoga pose isn’t perfect.
It’s OK if your website has a typo or (gasp!) a broken link.
It’s OK if your new podcast doesn’t have NPR-quality sound production.
It’s OK if you’re trying to be a great parent, or launch a business, or adjust to being married, or get back into the dating world, and you really don’t know what the hell you are doing.
It’s OK to fail, pick up the pieces, and try again.
It’s OK to put projects out into the world even if they’re not “perfect” yet.
It’s OK to pursue your passions and dreams even if you are not “perfect” yet.
Imperfection is not the end of the world.
It’s just Zao Gao. Messy Cake.
When you are willing to make Messy Cake, willing to be imperfect and awkward, that’s how you learn. That’s how you make progress.
When you will accept nothing less than Perfect Cake, that’s how you find yourself staying stuck in place, unable to move forward.
Stop demanding Perfect Cake from yourself every time. Perfect Cake is a paralyzing, unreachable standard. Embrace the beauty of Messy Cake.
Try. Leap. Test. Fail.
Refine. Move forward. Try again.
Here’s the delicious news about Zao Gao:
Even if you’re making a mess, hey: it’s still cake!
PS. Here’s a beautiful example of Messy Cake in a very literal context… Massimo Bottura, one of the top chefs in the world, is famous for his signature dessert which is called: “Oops, I Dropped The Lemon Tart!”
This now-legendary dessert was born out of a moment of pure Zao Gao. One of Massimo’s assistants dropped a “perfect” tart on the floor while rushing through the kitchen and then started apologizing profusely. Massimo told him, No, look! It’s beautiful. The shattered tart on the floor looked like a work of modern art. So unique and playful. Genius!
Massimo instructed his staff to start shattering all the tarts. Today, it’s one of his most celebrated and beloved dishes. Say it with me: Zao Gao!