Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Is there a relation between being an Ashtangi and having a Type A personality?

This question has been at the back of my mind for a while now, but Claudia's recent post ("You can't always get what you want") made me think about it a little more. So I thought I'll share some thoughts here.

So, is there such a relation? If there is, what is this relation? Do people become more type A as a result of practicing Ashtanga? Or are type As attracted to Ashtanga because something about the very highly structured nature of Ashtanga practice draws them to it like bees to honey? And if Ashtanga indeed attracts type As, what happens to these people after they start practicing? Do they become even more type A? Or does the practice somehow mellow and humble them, causing them to become less type A (maybe they become type B.5, as Claudia so cleverly suggested)?

These are intriguing questions. But before I say more, it is probably useful to try to get clear about what exactly we mean by type A and type B. This is where Wikipedia, that most hallowed of (un)scholarly sources, comes in handy (Gee, how did we get by in the pre-Wikipedia Dark Ages?). According to the all-knowing Wikipedia-oracle:

A Type A individual is one who is "ambitious, aggressive, business-like, controlling, highly competitive, impatient, preoccupied with his or her status, time-conscious, and tightly-wound. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving "workaholics" who multi-task, push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence."

By contrast, person with type B personalities "are generally patient, relaxed, easy-going, and at times lacking an overriding sense of urgency."

If the practice enables people to become more patient, relaxed and easy-going, then maybe we can say that type A people become more type B (or type B.5) over time, as they develop their practice. I like to think this is true in my case. The practice, by its very physically demanding nature, forces me to accept and work with my body's limits. I realize that if I can't do, say, karandavasana today, no amount of being aggressive or controlling will get me anywhere. In fact, more often than not, being controlling and aggressive on the mat results in unnecessary pain and injury. In this way, the practice has a way of molding one's personality into one that is more accepting of limitations, and that is more willing to work with what is, rather than strive instinctively and un-reflectively for a perceived state of perfection all the time.

But maybe things aren't that simple. I have this inner perception of the practice doing certain things to me, making me less of an asshole and more of a... saint? Well, maybe not saint, but at least less of an asshole. But that is only how I see myself. What if type A or type B are not absolute states of one's being, but are relative to different aspects of one's life as a whole? What if it is possible for me to be type A (controlling, aggressive, ambitious) in one area of my life but type B (patient, relaxed, easy-going) in another aspect of my life? And what if one is type B on the mat (i.e. patient and relaxed with regard to achieving or "getting" postures) but type A in all other areas of life? What if, due to consistent practice, I have learnt that being impatient and trying to control things on the mat is not productive, but I continue to be type A in my off-mat life, because that's how I have always done things, and I have always attained results in the real world by being this way?

You may say this is ultimately impossible, that ideally, the practice should permeate all aspects of one's life and make one a better person. I like to believe this is true too. But we all have heard of artists who are very adept and masterful at their art, but who are assholes in their personal lives. So if we think of yoga as being in a sense an art form, what would prevent some yogis from being the same way?

As usual, I'm just thinking aloud, with no real answers to any of these issues. If you have any thoughts on this, I would love to hear them.


  1. Hm, you are touching on something deep here Nobel. this is a great post.

    The definitions from Wikipedia are great and they want to make me want to "grasp" for definitions, oh yes, I am totally B.5 I laugh internally... but then I keep reading... is it possible... different areas... different moments... different settings.

    Is it possible that as the practice deepens we connect with the present moment and being much more aware we are able to channel to follow through with whatever it might be that SPIRIT wants us to do at a specific moment, regarldess of labels.

    Is it possible we just become more present?

  2. I'm pretty sure if one can soften in his or her practice one can find it easier to soften off the mat too (however slightly). Artists are ultimately creating a product (an external piece of art), while yogi work is internal (even though our external physique may transform through the practice too).

    It's not impossible there are yogis out there who only focus on the asanas and external physique. The rest of us have the intention of becoming a better person through yoga right? :)

  3. Claudia, I like what you said here: "Is it possible that as the practice deepens we connect with the present moment and being much more aware we are able to channel to follow through with whatever it might be that SPIRIT wants us to do at a specific moment, regardless of labels."

    I like to think that this is true. Perhaps when we connect with the present moment and are in tune with what it asks of us, we might sometimes need to act in a type B manner (relax, stand back, observe); at other times, the present moment might demand that we act in a type A manner (take control, move forward boldly in the face of obstacles). So perhaps, in this way, type A and type B are not inherently "good" or "bad" in and of themselves. The practice simply enables us to drwa upon each personality type/aspect at the appropriate moments.

    Yes, Yyogini, yogic work is definitely inherently internal in nature. As David Williams once said (I'm paraphrasing), "The real yoga is that which we cannot see." So in this sense, yoga is different from art as we conventionally understand it, in that it is internally directed, and should not be directed at the perfection of external form. But then again, I suppose another question also arises: What is art?

  4. I believe it's a commonly held belief that ashtanga is 'the yoga for the type A personality'. I have personally practiced with doctors, attorneys, rocket scientists, financial 'whatevers' and other massive overachievers. And yes, I'm pretty sure that anyone who knows me would describe me as type A.

    For some people, the ashtanga mkes it worse. For others, it's really helpful. Generally I see those who get 'worse' eventually drop the ashtanga and move on to something else. Just my observation and experience though.

  5. Thanks for the interesting insights, LI Ashtangini. Yes, I can see why those who get "worse" eventually drop the practice: Either you face the realities the practice brings to light (and adjust your expectations accordingly), or you continue to push against the brick wall of your limits with your expectations. Which results in pain and injury. And since there is only so much pain and injury anybody can take (even type As), they eventually drop the practice. Is this what you have in mind?

  6. multi-tasking, business-like, ambitious, time concious, workoholic type B personalities exist too. I am one.

  7. Interesting, Arturo. Yes, I suppose it is possible to be multi-tasking, businesslies, ambitious, etc., while also being relaxed, easy-going and generally patient on the whole.