Yoga for “Type A” Personalities

By P.J. Stuart

Before I started my Bikram Yoga practice, I’d heard it described many ways. It was called everything from a torture chamber, to a grueling workout, to a smelly room.

“There’s ‘om’ yoga, and then there’s ‘ohmigod’ yoga … this is ‘ohmigod’ yoga,” someone explained; and it didn’t take me long to find out why this was true.

But what resounded most clearly with me was when BYPV’s Nicole Deacon said during a class that this yoga tends to attract a lot of type-A personalities – ambitious, achievement-oriented people who aren’t afraid of rising to a challenge in the name of self-improvement.

It makes sense to me – Bikram’s series of ever-intensifying commands (“Go back! Waaaay back! Fall back!”), the sweltering heat, the 90-minutes of heart-pumping challenges – how could any health-focused, type-A personality truly stay away?

Interestingly enough, this works out quite well for more reasons than you might think.  It turns out, Bikram Yoga and type-A personalities really are a perfect match.  And not just in the way that peanut butter and jelly go well together.  For those of us who are a little higher strung, it might also be just what the doctor ordered.

The phrase “Type A personality,” and its corresponding psychological diagnosis, was coined by two cardiologists in the 1950s -- Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman. They conducted an 8.5 year study in which they determined this personality type carried double the risk of contracting coronary disease in otherwise healthy individuals.

What better designed self-defense system could there be?  Like flies to the light, the Bikram Yoga series draws the type-A personalities in to the torture chamber to quench their desire for ambition; then, systematically eradicates the very risk they are prone to by their sheer nature. (Think: flushing the arteries in balancing stick pose or marrying the heart-and-lungs in triangle pose).

It’s either genius or serendipity that it’s designed this way, I’m not sure which. Bravo, Bikram, bravo.

More recently, scientists have refined Friedman and Rosenman’s theories, stating only certain attributes of type-A personalities create the risk for poor cardiovascular health. Namely:  impatience, workahol-ism, and the stress derived from constant exposure to a competitive lifestyle.  A little pranayama breathing and some time spent in savasana is probably good for that too.

As a personal observation -- If you are prone to the type-A personality’s constant “need-to-succeed,” Bikram might keep your ego in check, as well.  There’s no better way of keeping us humble than a standing head-to-knee you just haven’t figured out yet, or a triangle pose that makes it hard for you to win …

And that’s why we never give up!