I’ve started incorporating one lunchtime yoga session into my weekly schedule in an attempt to become less stressed and more mindful. I find the transition of going from a frazzled, caffeine-induced morning at work to calm yogi both challenging and interesting.

I like observing how unbalanced I can be as I first sit on my mat. I like witnessing my mind and body handling that transition, and then giving myself the chance to observe and reflect upon thoughts going through my head.

I have a set of instructors I like and have become comfortable with, but recently I took a class with a different instructor who had a different style. She walked freely around the class, adjusting people’s poses and giving personal tips. I noticed an immediate fear rising inside of me as soon as I saw she was doing this. Because I was in class, I had the time to explore this sensation...What was this fear about?

I concluded that I really just don’t like criticism.

Ok, I know that’s not what this yoga instructor was doing, but for some reason, it’s the word my brain associated with her actions. I disliked it so much that I noticed I’d get anxiety when I even saw the instructor turning toward me. My self-talk was going something like this:

Is she looking at me?

Oh, no. Is she coming this way?

What am I doing wrong?

Shoot, if I make a quick adjustment to my knee, will she stop and go the other way?

As I thought about this in class, I recognized that this aversion to criticism was not limited to my yoga mat. As a student, I avoided criticism by getting 100% (or more) on tests. As an uncoordinated human being, I avoided criticism in athletic performance by purposely failing early and excusing myself from the rest of the game.

I notice my younger son does this too. If my husband or I try to correct him on the tiniest thing, he’ll pull his bottom lip up, and actually look away and pretend he didn’t hear us.

Why? I can’t speak for my son, but I can make some good guesses as it pertains to me. My instinct is to avoid things that make me feel like a failure. I’m quite a perfectionist, so in my mind criticism equals failure. This then forced me to 80/20 my choice of activities and only invest time in things I did well. This, in turn, allowed me to further develop skills in those areas – becoming quite good at some things, and honestly simply horrible at others (which I then just avoided).

Where does that instinct come from? I believe it’s an inner drive for perfectionism. But in examining that further, there’s a serious underlying erroneous belief that everything I do needs to be perfect. That’s a really bad goal as it’s not sustainable and actually sets me up for failure.

In thinking this through during my yoga class, I decided I want to start approaching criticism in a different way. First, I need to get rid of the criticism label. I need to use words like guidance, teaching, and instruction.

I also need to factor in intent. Is the person delivering this message to maliciously point out my faults or just gently show ways I can improve? If I correct my mind’s label and framing, I can see corrections in a new way and not only avoid the anxiety of experiencing it, but also be open to its intention.

I can’t wait for my next yoga class!