Type-A Meets the Mat

In Benjamin Lorr’s book, Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga, the author competes in a national Bikram yoga competition where he is judged based on his perfection of a series of postures on a stage in front of hundreds of people. He competes against teachers trained in Bikram Choudhury’s infamous nine-week course and he partakes in extreme back-bending (torso parallel to legs, belly up) as part of his training. He strives for physical perfection in his yoga each day.

In many ways, Lorr’s yoga practice is the exact opposite of my own. He practices twice a day in extreme heat, I practice twice a week, often next to the drafty door; he pushes through extreme pain to achieve deeper backbends, I avoid physical pain in yoga like the plague; he competes on stage in front of hundreds of people, I feel awkward helping teachers demonstrate poses for the class (the good kind of uncomfortable, though); he pushes himself to become better each and every practice, I accept the days when even downward facing dog is difficult for me, even if I feel frustrated and like I should have done better.

The constant pushing to become better is the reason Lorr competes in national competitions. But the acceptance of myself as I am, both mentally and physically, is one of the major reasons I feel sane, healthy, and happy most days. I am a Type-A personality in every way except for my yoga. I am overly involved, overly ambitious, and overly competitive. But I promised myself when I first started practicing yoga that I would not constantly push myself to be better, to be the best because I thought it would hinder the beneficial effects of the practice. This odd existence as Type-A and type-no-pressure-dude-just-go-with-the-flow leaves a lot for one to think about though. At what point does “accepting yourself as you are now” limit you from becoming what you could be? Where do we draw the line, where do we stop accepting and start making changes, challenging ourselves to be better yogis, better daughters and mothers, better community members, better people? How do we know when to accept or when to forge on to bigger and better? How do we do both? If you happen to have any idea, please let me know.

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