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I came here to WIN. But why?

This morning, I accompanied my buddy to yoga class. The instructor for this particular class is not playing around. She puts you to work.  My buddy used to practice yoga regularly, but like me has taken a long time off. She found herself getting frustrated during class. She was irritated that her body was not easing into poses that used to come pretty naturally to her. She had come to class with the attitude that she was going to tear it up. She was going to win at yoga. However, her body was not getting with the program.

As she was telling me her frustrations with the class, I confessed to her that when I started going to yoga regularly a couple of years ago, I wanted to win at chanting “Om”. I wanted to get really good at taking in enough breath to be able to chant as long, if not longer, than the instructor. In the context of yoga, this thinking is completely ridiculous. Yoga is not a competitive sport.  Chanting is extra not a competitive sport. Really, yoga is not even a sport at all. In yoga, you are allowed–in  fact–you are encouraged to take rests when you’re tired during class. You’re not supposed to strain yourself, as opposed to sports where you’re supposed to push yourself until you puke or pass out. But do I take rests during yoga when I feel like my shoulder muscles are gone and my biceps are jellyfish? No. Never. Because that’s quitting, like that girl on the mat next me is doing. Wuss.

I have always been hyper competitive. That’s why I had to quit judo when I was a kid. I had to win, and if I did not win, I felt like I committed the deepest kind of failure–that losing that one tournament, or one match even, meant that I was nothing and worthy of nothing. That one loss defined me. But if I won, I was a monster. (Actually, when I lost I was a monster, too. I was a terrible sportsman). If I beat you, I felt like you deserved it and both loathed and pitied you.  However, I ended up cracking under the pressure and switched to team sports when I was in middle school and early high school. I was never into them, though. There’s something about playing a sport where you chase a ball around that makes me feel like I’m not much different than a dog. I’ve always been more drawn to sports where you really have to rely on yourself, like combat sports as well as track/cross country and swimming.  As I realized that I was not really cut out for athletics, I focused all my competitive ferocity on academics. This was especially out of control when I was an undergrad, where I’d pick a secret nemesis in each class. The goal was that I was going to beat this person at the class, aka get better grades and gain more respect from the professor. My secret nemesis was usually the biggest loudmouth in the class. Of course, I would never have a way of knowing if I actually got better grades than my unwitting opponent, but I’d like to think I always won.

My friend and I were trying to figure out why we always have to be so competitive, particularly in situations where that mindset is irrelevant, if not destructive. Instead of going to a yoga class to learn and enjoy yourself, you go there to be better than everyone else? Why do we do this? We can’t figure it out. I used to think that this attitude might lead me to end up friendless and alone, but now that my buddy and I know we have the same disease, I’ll at least have her in the end. As long as we can stay out of competition with each other.

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  1. September 26, 2011 at 20:37

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