A Competitive Monster Goes to Yoga Alison Bennett

I am, by nature, a competitive person. I have the perfect personality for sports – at least from what I have gathered about sports as a horrifically uncoordinated person who hates to sweat. Maybe if I had been born with unusual upper body strength, or to tyrannical parents, I could have funneled my competitive energy into the world of pro athletics, where laser-like focus and psychopathic behavior is both valued and encouraged. (Guys, everything I know about “sports” I learned from the 1994 Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding incident and mean girls on my childhood swim team.) But since I’m too old to go for the gold and our local kickball league scares me (sample team name: We’ve Got the Runs), I’m forced to release my inner beast in yoga class.

Just to clarify, when a person with limited athletic ability “releases their inner beast” in yoga class, it just means they are looking around the room and comparing themselves to other people. That is how I “compete”. My only impressive physical feat is the ability to feel intense self-loathing while inverted.

Recently, I agreed to take a yoga class with my best pal Mary. At first, things were going fine as I had given Mary a JLo-like order that she was not to look me in the eye for the duration of the class. But when the instructor said that we could go into the half-bridge pose or we could finish the expression and attempt the full wheel, I broke my own rule and gave Mary the ol’ side-eye. I expected her to be the Brooklyn Bridge to my Manhattan Bridge, parallel in our ineptitude, when I noticed her body was formed into a perfect “O”. Like the shape of a person’s mouth when they say, “Ohhhhhh, you are sooooo goood at yooooga.”

I prepared myself to go full contortionist. I wanted to BEAT Mary at yoga, even if it meant snapping every single one of my vertebrae and changing our Saturday night plans from our dorky “healthy cooking night” to a visit to the local emergency room. But instead of forcing my body to victory, or having my ex-husband run in and hit Mary in the knees, I didn’t move. (I also don’t have an ex-husband.) Maybe it was the ujiayi pranayama breathing, maybe it was the exhaustion of moving my body in a way that did not involve guacamole and a Tostitos scoop, but I kept my body where it wanted to be: about a half inch off the ground.

And at that moment, yoga suddenly made sense. I had been coming at it all wrong. My body wasn’t in competition with the other people in my class. MY MIND WAS IN COMPETITION. My eyes darted around the room. “Is that dude with the abs listening to his body? What about that chick with the botanical-themed tattoos?” I thought. “Because I’m really listening to my body. I might be the best at it, actually.”

Image via Shy Thom

comments

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  1. Thanks everybody! I’m glad I’m not alone.

    Anonymous | 3/29/2012 03:03 pm
  2. I love this. I was just thinking the other day about how, during my very first 7-day silent meditation retreat, I would “race” the woman next to me to see who could eat the afternoon tea treats the slowest. If I took the last bite, I’d think, “Yeah, b*tch,” all the while in the posture of the Buddha. Minds are funny and weird.

  3. Only having ever competed in solitary sports, I find in yoga I compete against myself, not the other people in the classes. I’m always pushing myself a bit further than I went last class, holding a pose a bit longer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, it’s that the only accurate measure of competition you can have is by competing with yourself, and yoga is the perfect outlet for that!

  4. I’ve been in the same situation in and out of it. It happens! being a former competitive athlete it took me a while for me to let go of that side. It was hard I couldn’t do yoga with some people anymore because it felt that we were competitiveness against each other. I decided to still practice yoga but on my own or at another studio. I feel the competition in the air and when it happens i close my eyes and just either get into child pose or downward dog and realize “hey who cares if you can’t do that pose, listen to me! don’t go over your edge or else!?” Yoga has told me that any poses is beautiful, just because someone can do a sweet arm balance doesn’t mean that they are better than in you in yoga. I’m glad you wrote this!!

  5. The part about the husband made my literally lol.

  6. I also find myself acting super competitively during yoga class, and just the other day I came to a similar conclusion – namely that I was completely missing the point of yoga by focusing on everyone but me! Thank you for sharing. :)

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