Q&A: Are You Competing With Yourself?

During practice, I feel great, but later I often feel critical, impatient, and even angry. Any suggestions?
Hands in meditation, Yogis practice yoga together

Q: I practice vinyasa yoga with Ujjayi breathing and Mula and Uddiyana Bandha. During practice, I feel great, but 15 to 30 minutes later I often feel critical, impatient, and even angry. Any suggestions about what I should do? -—Penny Kongsai, Bangkok, Thailand

Read Max Strom's response:

I suspect you may be working too hard, breathing too aggressively, and generally doing your hatha practice in a competitive and aggressive spirit—which, as you're discovering, is antithetical to the true purpose of yoga. Instead, try to take a more holistic and healing approach.

Hatha yoga is meant to be a harmonious integration of intention, breath, and asana, so it's vital to recall your deepest intentions—peace, compassion, kindness, enlightenment, love, or however you define the m—at the beginning of every practice. As the Buddha said, "All that we are is the result of what we have thought; it is founded on our thoughts; it is made up of our thoughts." Intention is extremely powerful, so set your aim high. Then keep your intentions in your heart as you practice. Breathe into your heart center so your highest ideals pervade your body with every breath. Breathe deeply, but never harshly; keep your jaw and tongue relaxed.

Caffeine is another factor to consider. If you drink a lot of coffee or caffeinated tea, it may make you tense and irritable.

If you tend to be aggressive or competitive, I recommend you avoid yoga classes in which attaining poses is the focus. Many years ago, I studied briefly with an instructor famous for teaching hard classes. I liked the teacher, but after class I felt irritable and edgy, much as you describe. I tried other teachers and eventually found one who helped me monitor my breathing and find the proper balance between strength and surrender so I felt wonderful afterwards.

Finally, I've found that the most powerful antidote to intolerance and anger is the practice of forgiveness. I recommend sitting and recalling everyone who has hurt you–—including yourself. Then extend compassion and forgiveness to each. Whenever I do this, I feel a weight lift—and my life feels much happier; I hope it will do the same for you.

The co-founder and former director of Sacred Movement Yoga in Los Angeles, Max Strom is the creator of the DVD Max Strom Yoga: Strength, Grace, and Healing. Visit www.maxstrom.com.