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How to “Win” at Yoga.

Ellie Bernstein article photo

“Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them.” ~ E.M. Forster, A Room With A View

As a former ballet dancer, my entire childhood, young adult life and early career were entrenched in competition.

Everything was a competition. We dancers were even competitive about how perfect our hair looked for technique class. My hairline actually started to recede when I was a teenager, because I pulled it so tight into a bun, and I used so much hairspray you could kill a man with it’s fumes.

Everything I did was inspected under a microscope, so I made sure I was perfect. Striving for perfection all day, everyday, shaped my being.

When something becomes so ingrained in who you are, it’s really hard to even notice it. However, yoga pulled that right up to the surface for me when I began a daily practice—spreading it out in the light and making me woefully aware of the fact that I am the most competitive person I’ve ever met.

Upon making and accepting this bit of information about myself, I began to work on it. For a while, I continued to pride myself on being “the best at yoga.” I was really flexible and could totally nail any posture thrown my way. My horse pose was clearly the best horse pose in the room.

Natarajasana, you say? Ha. Dancer’s pose was made for me. I remember coming home from yoga and telling my husband about all of these great acrobatic feats I had learned. One time he jokingly asked if I had “won at yoga” that night.

It pains me that I used to have those thoughts. My practice had become all about being the best at yoga, and eventually I just grew tired of myself. I annoyed myself. I could not step into a class without having that mindset. I didn’t know how to make it stop, so I ceased going to public classes altogether. I temporarily pulled away from my community and began to practice alone at home. I turned away from my mirror and began to just move and flow and did what felt good.

During this time, a lot within me changed. Not only did my personal practice majorly evolve (thank goodness), but my practice as a teacher evolved as well. I started to teach more from my heart. I began teaching from a vulnerable place—a place where I exposed all of my own bullsh*t, so that my students could connect to the real me. Not the Instagram picture-perfect Ellie in a 180-degree standing split.

No, no—that’s not real life. That is a result of lighting, filters and about 20 pictures beforehand that just didn’t look right. I’m talking about the real me, as in all the yucky parts of myself that I didn’t want to admit were true, but needed to get off my chest.

It was time to come clean that I wasn’t perfect.

Finally, it all clicked and started to work. I stopped caring about being the best at yoga. I stopped caring about perfecting the asana. I stopped feeling self-conscious about being a teacher in someone else’s class and dropping into a child’s pose when my body was cooked.

I just stopped giving a sh*t about perfection and being “the best.” I don’t know when it finally happened, but it just sort of came to be, and I feel so much—lighter.

There will always be someone bendier, skinnier, stronger, taller or more whatever-er than you, so it’s time to get real about who you are. Stop giving a f*ck about what anyone thinks, and own who you are. Because you are the only you, and you are amazing—trust me, I see it.

I see it in your smile when you nail a handstand for the first time. I see it when you surrender to the practice during savasana. I see it when you hold the door open for your fellow yogis before and after class. I see it when you cry in pigeon pose. I see it when you introduce yourself to the obviously nervous newbie on the mat next to you.

I am so blessed to be a yoga instructor and witness the beauty of the humans around me. Yoga teaches us to dig deep, and often what is right below the surface is something we don’t like seeing and avoid facing—yet this is the work of yoga. This is the good stuff—forget triangle pose, headstands and chaturangas—this is why we show up.

I dare you to reach into the depths of who you are and pull out your deepest, darkest feelings.

Perhaps you don’t understand them yet, and perhaps they make you uncomfortable. Allow yoga to help you spread them out in the sunlight—begin to understand, change and develop into your unique and beautiful self.

Just like the lotus flower that grows in the murky water, let yourself to flourish from that which may seem dark and unpleasant. Know that your shadow side is what ultimately brings your most radiant self to the surface.

Shine on, beautiful yogis!

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Relephant reads:

Mirrors in Yoga Class: A Bad Idea?

11 Powerful Lessons Yoga has Taught Me. 

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Author: Ellie Bernstein

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Author’s own.

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Ellie Bernstein

After retiring from the world of ballet, Ellie Bernstein delved into the world of fitness, eventually finding her voice as a yoga instructor in Bloomington, Indiana, home of the Indiana University Hoosiers. When she’s not teaching or taking classes, she enjoys goofing off with her husband and two cats. Additionally, she is a contributing writer for the online news forum Elite Daily and loves writing and blogging in her spare time. For class and workshop information, please head to her website and follow her along her journey as both a teacher and student of yoga on Instagram.