Yoga for Over-Achievers

I started practicing yoga my senior year of college. After 22 years of moving quickly, constantly achieving and believing in the American myth of staying busy, I was reluctant (to say the least) to try something I associated with slow movement and soft flute music.

One of my friends told me I should try yoga because it would make me less “frenetic.” “It will help you manage your ‘L.A. energy.'” Frenetic? What? I’m not frenetic. I’m from Northern California for God’s sake?! Jerk.

I think I went to my first class to just prove him wrong.

It’s been four years since I first stepped on a yoga mat. That first class was gentle and non-confrontational. My teacher had long pigtails and sang in savasana. I walked out of the John Wooden Center that morning with a feeling I couldn’t describe. Maybe it was stillness, maybe it was peace. Whatever it was, I wanted more of it, right away.

I went twice a week my last quarter at UCLA. 10 weeks of breathing and bliss.
When the year ended, I went back to my other life. I was a runner, an eliptical rider, an ipod listening, distraction-seeking gym-goer. When I had time, I liked to rollerblade with my mom on the American River bike trail. I had been forcing myself to “workout” every day since I was sixteen.

I stumbled into a power yoga class for the first time in the Fall of 2006. My friend was doing “30 days in L.A,” a self governed challenge where he tried something he’d never done in Los Angeles, every day for a month. He discovered a “donation-based” yoga studio, and dragged me and my roommates along for the experience.

I was an unsuspecting student. I had come straight from my weekend coaching job. I was wearing soccer shorts and a baggy t-shirt. I must have borrowed a mat.
My first class was excruciating. I fell out of half-moon, probably seven times. I remember thinking, damn. That was intense.

I’m not sure what drew me back to Santa Monica Power Yoga, but I remember a distinct moment, it was probably my six or seventh class, where something clicked. I walked out of the studio that night feeling like I had discovered something extraordinary. Something that somehow, was going to change my life.

And it certainly did.

It evolved for me the way it does for many people: at first the physical practice was addicting. My body was strong and fit in a way I hadn’t experienced. The more I got on the mat, the more I appreciated the 90 minutes I spent “out of my head.” I started to look forward to it, then I started to depend on it. It was a workout, a coping mechanism, an escape. It was more than I ever could have imagined.

I stopped going to the gym.

Eventually, I went beyond the physical practice and started to connect yoga to experiences in my every day life. I could feel myself become more calm, more balanced and less reactive. I was lighter, happier and more in control of the experience of my own life. The community of people that popped up around me were likewise, happy, centered and loving. Yoga was incredible.

My practice was put to the test last Fall when I started Law School. Everything you ever hear about the first year of law school is awful. I heard warnings, horror stories and plenty of “good lucks.” By the time I actually made it to my first day of school, I had every reason imaginable not to be there. I was genuinely prepared to surrender my happiness, free-time and sanity to the cause of becoming a lawyer, and it quickly became clear that many people in law school, do just that.

This blog was born, in some ways, out of my experience as a first year law student. In other ways, it has been years in the making. In my life before law school I was an over-achieving, high-strung, hyper-anxious type-A student. I can remember losing sleep over a presentation and pulling an all-nighter on a project as far back as the 3rd grade.

Strangely, for the first time, I found a sense of ease and comfort as a law student. I learned to take a deep breath before responding to a professor’s challenge. I learned to focus on the work that was immediately in front of me, instead of getting overwhelmed by the volume of work looming in the future. I learned to concentrate on my own experience, and tune out the stories of my classmates who loved to complain, brag, whine, react, compete, etc. Perhaps most importantly, I learned how to detach my self worth and identity from my achievements as a law student.

Everything I ‘learned’ that year I had practiced first, on my mat. The miracle of my first year was really three years in the making. Three years of showing up. Three years of breathing. Three years of first struggling, then surrendering. The repetitive process, that as yogis we come to depend on, to bring balance back into our lives.

It’s hard to tell these days whether I’m still an ‘over-achiever.’ Sometimes I still refer to myself as one out of habit, or conditioning, or ego, or something else. Yoga has given me powerful insight into what it means to over-achieve, and the reasons why some of us Type-A, go-getter, high-energy types, do what we do the way we do it.

This blog is my practice of “doing less” and “being more.” It is a reminder to myself that love, compassion and acceptance should take priority over achievement, both for myself and the people around me. It is my exploration of the day to day challenges that face someone who is trying to find a balance between “getting what I want” and “being who I want to be,” on, and off the mat.

Namaste.

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