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September 30, 2012

During a yoga class I attended this summer, the teacher demonstrated a pose, adding, “This one is great for people who are type A.” I responded (yes, I spoke out loud in a yoga class, Om my goodness! Help me Hanuman!), “Oh that’s great, I am type A.” And the teacher responded with a laugh, “Everyone who comes to yoga is type A.” I found her comment to be quite interesting as I thought about my friends who practice yoga regularly. Is this true? Is yoga only for the type-A personalities among us? I am 200 percent type A. Even my blood type is A . I am a Virgo and a perfectionist.

According to the world’s wise sage of all knowledge, Swami … er, Wikipedia, a type-A person is “ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status conscious, can be sensitive, care for other people, are truthful, impatient, always try to help others, take on more than they can handle, want other people to get to the point, proactive, and obsessed with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving 'workaholics’ who multitask, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence.” While I am convinced that Wikipedia writers must have been following me around with a hidden camera when they wrote that post, I know that these traits are common in many people. Of course, not all type-A folks have all of these traits (just some of us!). While not everyone who does yoga is type A, and yoga is not the cure-all for all of these traits (because many of these can be positive things and need no such cure), yoga certainly is – dare I say – perfect for perfectionists and can really help those of us with type-A personalities keep our mannerisms in check.

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Here are a few things that yoga teaches us:

1. Live in the moment

How cliché, right? Carpe diem! It may seem obvious, but for Type-A people, living in the moment is especially difficult. We’re constantly worrying about what is coming and obsessing about what came before. Yoga is all about being in the present moment. You had a bad day? Now you’re on your yoga mat and it’s over, so move on. You have to go home and feed the kids, have a difficult conversation or face a tough task? Okay, but hold the worrying until later, and get into that downward dog.

2. You don’t have to be the best

We’ve all been there. When the teacher says “Headstands,” you look to your right at the man putting his legs into the air as if it were the most natural things in the world. And, when it’s time for Hanumanasana, you are busy watching the supermodel-like lady in front of you slap her sit bones to the ground with no effort whatsoever and struggling desperately to get yours to do the same. If you practice yoga for years and still can’t quite get your hands to moooo-ve together in Cow’s Head Pose, guess what? It’s okay! And, if you fall over while doing tree pose, you know what? That’s all right too! You’re human. You make mistakes. And you’re not the best yogi or yogini in the room. For me, yoga was very frustrating at first. As someone who was taught from a young age that I can do anything I set my mind to, I became very irritated when my long, skinny legs just wouldn’t bend the way the pose asked. And, I still can’t do an unassisted Handstand. However, yoga has taught me that it’s okay not to be the best. If we spend so much time comparing ourselves to others and getting angry at our limbs for not bending the way we want them to, we stress ourselves out even more and can’t enjoy the class.

In life, if we are constantly comparing ourselves to others and striving to be the best, we also miss out on pleasurable experiences. So, instead of grunting when you fall from your tree pose as the beautiful gazelle behind you remains still, laugh. Laugh at yourself and your imperfections, and I promise that your life will go on. And, may I add, it will be just a little bit happier.

3. Stay grounded

Shout out to all of you multi-taskers out there. (I am writing this post while making dinner, watching TV and talking on the phone, and you are likely reading it while doing the same, and planning your next family vacation, am I right?)

You may be pulled in all directions, but your yoga practice is a time to breathe and simply focus on the task at hand, whether it is strengthening, balancing or getting into the toughest pose of all for us Type A-ers, Savasana. And, no matter how much we have going on in our lives, the yoga postures remain static. I rarely know from one day to the next what my day will bring, but I do know that when I place my hands and feet on the yoga mat, downward dog is there. It’s my rock, to be perfectly (yes, perfectly) cliché. Instead of trying to exert control over ourselves and our worlds through crazy planning, addiction or food, we can use our yoga postures.

4. Welcome the silence

How many times has your yoga teacher told you to “quiet your mind,” and you wanted to explain that, in fact, your mind refuses to shut up. It is constantly moving, constantly thinking of ideas and constantly worrying about one thing or another. These are the qualities that make you creative and successful, but they can also stress you out. So, how can we teach our overactive minds to quiet down? It takes practice. Yes, my friends, that’s why they call it a yoga “practice.” It’s not a yoga cure or a yoga game, but a yoga practice, and one that takes a long time to get right.

Rumi said, “No more words. Hear only the voice within.” When we stop talking, both to those around us and to ourselves, for just a moment, we can step back and listen, to both our inner voices and to others. There is a difference between hearing and listening, and yoga allows us to really stop and listen.

5. Sloooooow down

You’ve done enough “vinyasas” to know that an Upward Facing Dog will come after Chaturanga, but why rush? Chaaaa-tuuuu-raaaaan-gaaaa. Breathe in, breathe out. Feel your body. Focus on your alignment. Sure, certain styles of yoga like Ashtanga or Jivamukti necessitate quicker movements, but learning to slow down has been a key part of yoga for me. It all comes back to this idea of savoring the moment. Don’t precipitate what’s coming next; just enjoy where you are now. I love when yoga teachers refer to poses as “delicious.” If you have a delicious chocolate cake in front of you, do you want to gobble it up quickly and not even enjoy the taste at all? Or, do you want to eat small bites and allow the flavors to infuse your body with taste? If you’re constantly worrying about what is coming next, you won’t be able to enjoy where you are now. Type-A personalities are impatient by nature. We can’t stand waiting. Holding a pose for a full minute can seem endless, but it builds strength and forces us to remain in the moment, without jumping forward. It forces us to be alone with our thoughts, too. So, forget about jumping to the front of your mat; just open your heart and enjoy that delicious Upward Dog while you can. Bon appétit.

6. Put yourself first

What? Yoga teaches us to be selfish? Of course not. Yoga is all about oneness and caring for others. However, yoga also teaches us to be good to ourselves. Type-A people tend to focus on others’ needs and occasionally forget their own in the process. Yoga reminds us to connect to ourselves and love ourselves. In the process, once we are strong both physically and emotionally, we are able to remove everything and everyone around us that is literally intoxicating our bodies and our minds.

As Marc Holzman always says, “Yoga serves you so that you can go on to serve others.” Take care of yourself, love yourself; then you’ll know exactly how you can help to spread that love everywhere. Now, doesn’t that sound perfect?

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Rebecca Leffler
Rebecca Leffler

Rebecca Leffler is an author, journalist and consultant who, after a long career in entertainment as France Correspondent for The Hollywood Reporter and film critic on French TV network Canal , has traded the red carpets of Paris for the green streets of New York. Rebecca hosts "Green, Clean, and Chic" events in New York and Paris on both a public and corporate level and is an expert in branded entertainment and communication for wellness brands. Her best-selling French book "Green, Glam & Gourmande" has been translated to Spanish and Dutch and the English-language adaptation "Très Green, Très Clean, Très Chic: Eat (and live) the New French Way with Plant-based, Gluten-free Recipes for Every Season".