Sunday, April 10, 2011

So what is a Type A Ashtangi to do? Some wisdom from the Yoga Sutra

A few days ago, I wrote this post exploring the relation between being an Ashtangi and having a type A personality. I got some interesting and varied responses. Some people (including me) are of the opinion that the practice can make one less type A (or at least B.5) over time. Others are of the opinion that the practice may make the type-A-ness worse for some people. Yet one other person commented that it is possible to be both type B and yet possess characteristics commonly associated with being type A (being ambitious, aggressive, businesslike, competitive, etc.).

Very interesting. But all this makes me wonder: What would the Yoga Sutra have to say to type A people? Of course, in posing this question, I may be assuming that being type A is a bad thing. And it's not always clear that the personality traits associated with being type A are necessarily always destructive ones; maybe there are times when being ambitious, businesslike and competitive are desirable and useful traits to have.

However, as many of us know, one of the yamas or ethical precepts of yoga is aparigraha or non-grasping. If being ambitious, businesslike and competitive are associated with grasping, then it seems that a person who has less of a grasping nature (and thus, less type A) would be more able to observe aparigraha, and would be more likely to live a fulfilling life.


Yoga Sutra 1.2 says, "Yogas Chitta Vrtti Nirodhah", which is usually translated as "Yoga is the cessation (nirodhah) of the fluctuations of consciousness (Chitta)." At her Yoga Sutra lecture at her recent Richmond workshop, Kino brought up something interesting about this sutra. While "nirodhah" is commonly translated as "cessation", this is not, strictly speaking, correct. The goal of the practice isn't so much to stop our minds from working as to direct our minds in a different direction. Specifically, the point of practice is to direct the mind so that its gaze is directed inward and becomes connected with purusha, or True Self, and away from prakruti, or phenomenal experience. According to yoga philosophy, suffering and delusion arises when one confuses that which is ephemereal and impermanent (prakruti) with that which is authentic and true (purusha). To liberate oneself from this confusion, one needs to turn one's attention away from all things in the world and the psychological reactions that they evoke, and turn inward and seek out purusha, which is eternal. The practice, especially the tristana, encourages the introspection which is necessary for such an endeavor. The person who is proficient at such introspection is one who lives in the phenomenal world, assumes all the tasks and responsibilities associated with being a person of this world, and yet, being one who is devoted to the contemplation of purusha, is able to enjoy freedom from attachment to the outcomes of these tasks and responsibilities.  

In light of this, we can see that the practice, if done consistently and properly, has the power to free one from the bondage of excessive attachment to outcomes of our actions in the world. Or, to put it in the terms with which I started this post, it has the power to free one from the tendency of excessive grasping, and in this way, alleviate type-A-ness.    


  1. yes, it does have the potential to alleviate the type A-ness... so many factors are involved... but it does have the potential I agree

  2. Yes, Claudia, I definitely think so too. Assuming that being type A is something that needs alleviating, of course :-)

  3. What if you're like me, and very neurotic, apologetic, chaotic, cares but is reckless, passionate but depressed? I'm not really familiar with personality types, so does that fit under A or B? Whatever personality types yoga alleviates, all I know is that it has helped me get my feet on the ground, because honestly half of those aforementioned personality "dysfunctions" are dissipating. (The neuroticism, depression, chaos for certain)

  4. Actually, Chris, I think those personality traits could be compatible with either type A or type B: It is possible to be both passionate but depressed, for instance, and also be either ambitious (type A) or relaxed and easy-going (type B). In any case, I am glad that the yoga practice has helped you :-)

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  6. Hmmmmmm, that is true. (this might sound a little too sentimental (or just sentimental enough)) However, as far as I'm really concerned, two personality types are cultivated by yoga and that's Type H and Type S. H is for Human and S is for Spirit. :)