Yoga has its physical benefits. Yet, it’s best recognized for its calming effect on the mind and body. In fact, a recent study at Duke University School of Medicine found yoga can even be effective in treating depression and anxiety. So, it was no surprise that when I entered a bout of depression, my therapist suggested I start a yoga practice.
At her request, I took three vinyasa classes a week—sometimes even adding a more meditative hatha class. The problem: I was far from relaxed. Every class, instead of focusing on my breathing and leaving my stress at the door, I brought my type A, competitive, and often negative personality with me. For the past 15 years, I’ve been a runner. Achievement was measured in mile times, race times , and even pounds lost. Yoga was hard to wrap my head around. When I couldn’t touch my toes, I felt defeated. When I looked at my neighbors in splits, I felt the urge to stretch farther—and often felt pain the next day. (Next time you feel straddled between pushing yourself and pushing it too far, ask yourself: Are You Too Competitive at the Gym?)
The big mirror at the front of class didn’t help either. Only in the past year have I lost 20 pounds that I’d gained while studying abroad in Dublin over five years ago. (Yes, there is an Abroad Freshman 15. It’s called Guinness.) Even though my body is thinner and more toned than it’s ever been, I’m still quick to judge it in the mirror. “Wow, my arms look big in this shirt.” The harsh thoughts would just come out naturally in the middle of my practice.
As absurd as all of this sounds, these thoughts are not uncommon in today’s society where a competitive nature drives success. (It’s actually the top Surprising Class You Compete In.) Loren Bassett, an instructor at Pure Yoga in New York City says that some yoga classes—especially athletic and vigorous classes like hot yoga—can attract type A personalities who strives for goals and want to master postures. “It’s very natural for them to be competitive, and not just with other people, but with themselves,” Bassett says.
The good news: You can acknowledge your competitive nature, face your insecurities, and use your yoga practice to calm. Below, Bassett provides a step-by-step guide for doing so.
Choose Intentions Over Goals
“The magic happens when you come into a class to learn about yourself and your body, not like you would come to a race.” Yoga isn’t technically a fitness class—it’s more about mindfulness,” says Bassett. So although it’s good to have long term goals, you shouldn’t allow them to bring frustration into your practice. “Notice when goals start getting destructive.” After all, when goals aren’t met, frustration quickly follows. Bassett says many people quit as a result. Continue reading >>