We’ve all taken a yoga class with someone who missed their calling as a contortionist or can do one-armed push-ups. It’s a simple truth that there are a lot of really incredibly fit people out there who can do very impressive things with their bodies, and that’s pretty awesome.

But, the problem is when these people show up in our yoga classes. Suddenly, a class that is all about stress relief and calming down becomes all about keeping up with our neighbors. With that in mind, I’m here to tell you something that all good yogis preach against: it’s OKAY to be competitive in yoga class.

I’m a competitive person. I was a high-level gymnast for almost a decade. As such, I have always had high expectations for my body’s abilities and I am constantly pushing it to new milestones. If there’s one thing I learned in gymnastics that can be applied to life, it’s that you should never be the best in the room. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, “That’s complete madness. My parents raised me to do my best, to kick butt, and to stand out!” Now let’s make sure we’re on the same page- you should always DO your best, but you should never BE the best. Hear me out.

Having a competitive edge is actually pretty crucial to your success at anything. It gives you that hunger for achievement and keeps your fire well-fueled. In fact, without competitiveness, you might not ever improve very much. Your sense of competition can be an incredibly useful tool in your quest for success and self-improvement. Had I been the best gymnast at my gym, I would have become pretty lackadaisical. I would have cruised through my routines, content with my stable but unimpressive trajectory. However, it wasn’t enough for me to get by on natural talent. I needed more motivation, and I found that motivation in my peers’ triumphs. By surrounding myself with gymnasts who were throwing harder tricks and receiving higher scores, I became more and more inspired to work hard and to push my mind and body to greater lengths. I threw harder tricks and scored higher, and so did my superior teammates. It was a constant, fantastic cycle of frustration, motivation, and subsequent huge improvements.

The next time you see someone at the front of the yoga class doing the best dang scorpion pose you’ve ever seen, don’t get angry at them for doing it and don’t get angry at yourself for not. Take your frustration and turn it into hard work. Use their impressiveness to remind yourself that you have room for improvement, and then get to work. Note: it may take months or years to arrive at your destination, but it will be well worth it. You may actually find yourself thanking that crazy upside-down circus performer for giving you a great incentive to better yourself. After all, yoga is all about self-improvement and growth, is it not? And one day, when you find that all the other yogis in the room are looking to YOU for motivation, switch yoga studios 🙂