EGO < TRUE PURPOSE

Ego

       The ego, called asmita, is the greatest enemy to a yoga practice, though most often during asana. The ego makes us do stupid stuff, regardless of if we are alone when we practice, or within a studio among others. It forces us to compare ourselves with others and to either find ourselves lacking, or, arrogantly above them. I’m not sure which one of those two I would categorize as “worse”. They are both unpleasant things to experience. The former gives you a sense of loss, perhaps at something you never had to begin with, and the latter leaves you with a sick feeling immediately after thinking it, because you just had a cruel thought about another person.

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Ego is more destructive than physical injury, handicap or illness. It deceives you into thinking you are physically able to safely accomplish a posture or breathing technique when you are not ready for it, or, it restrains you with doubt and keeps you from attempting something that you could safely obtain, if you only motivated yourself to give it a go.

So how do we keep this nasty three-letter word from wriggling its way into our mind while we are twisting and moving, or even simply sitting and meditating, on our yoga mat? I wish I could say that I had a sure fire recipe, and that I myself was immune to ego’s siren’s call. But that would be very, very much a lie. I have to work my mind harder than my body on my mat, to keep my ego from tempting me to and fro. I subscribe to many different yoga things to follow online, because they occasionally give lovely quotes or pictures that inspire me; however, they are also prone to posting what I call (and have mentioned before) Yoga Porn. Those are the photos of postures that are Cirque D soleil- esque professional yogis, who appear to be bendy or strong beyond nature. It seems to be either one extreme or another, either there is nothing but circus postures, or nothing but philosophy… no middle ground. But that is a different blog for a different time! Anyways, sometimes I look at those images and feel proud of the human form- no matter if it isn’t me. Other times my mind becomes a haven for negative self-images. I know I’ve said this before, but the Germans (German teacher by day- me!) have a word for it, “Weltschmerz”. That is the feeling of loss you experience at comparing your world how it actually is, to how it could be in utopia. I think it is beautiful that the Germans have a word for this long-winded feeling: because it means I am not the only one who experiences this emotion! You should not feel hurt at what isn’t actually in existence yet, and quite possibly could never be!

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Although I don’t have a magic bullet, I can admit one tip that has helped me, and I hope it will help you. So here goes:

Whenever you are frustrated with yourself for not being able to achieve a pose, drop down to your reflective posture (mind is Child’s) and ask yourself, “What is the TRUE PURPOSE of this posture [that I am trying to get to], that I want to obtain?”

If the answer you come up with is something similar to, “Because it’ll look impressive in a photo or to someone else, or because I like the way it LOOKS,” then you know your ego is talking to you. Although in a competitive setting, your burned ego may help your performance, because you feel as if you have something to prove- that isn’t what yoga is about at all. Yoga is about feeling, breathing, healing, personal growth, introspection and meditation of the mind and body. Therefore, think of the TRUE PURPOSE of the pose, and the TRUE PURPOSE of yoga and find a way to combine the two. This will assist you in keeping safe by monitoring your asanas, and I hope, will help you realize when your ego is making you upset at yoga, when it should feel nothing of the sort.

I want to give a few examples, as I am sure some are still going, “huh?” at my suggestion. At the yoga studio I teach/practice at, there is a male student who is a definite regular and power yoga junkie. I know that he LOVES classes where the teacher challenges them with tough inversions, and that he wants to learn to float between Down Dog and arm balances of all kinds. I’ve spoken with him about why he enjoys these so much and his response, that I am paraphrasing here, was beautiful:

“I’ve done millions of Warrior 2s and such, and so my brain will not shut off as easily as it used to during yoga, because at that point, it is routine and muscle memory. I like trying the hard stuff because when I do, I have to go inward and really, really communicate with my body about what I am trying to obtain, and all the crap in my mind floats away at that point. Because I am so focused on my body, my breath and what I am supposed to do or feel, I can’t do anything else. Those types of postures, still out of my reach a bit, help me get out of my head.”

YES! HAPPY DANCE!! I have no doubt in my mind at all that that is why the yogis, who created these crazy tough postures, did so! They spent countless hours doing repetitive movements that no longer challenged them, and they weren’t experiencing the mental benefits of yoga asana practice anymore, because their monkey mind would say, “Warrior 2? Yeah, I know what to do… so at work the other day, my boss…blahblahblah.”

Young woman doing yoga asana Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (one legged king pigeon) isolated on white background

When this student said this to me, I had an epiphany about goals I should set for myself for yoga postures. I still haven’t reached ANY OF THEM, but I can tell you that I’ve seen an improvement in ALL OF THEM body-wise and soul-wise. I am learning to embrace and enjoy the space between “Can’t and Can” (do that pose), and am feeling my ego step take the backseat to positive introspection, safety and fun.

Personal Examples:

  1. Jillian, what is the TRUE PURPOSE of those cool arm balances that appeal to you so much?
    1. I have broken my right wrist once, and my left wrist twice, simply because I fell and put my arms out to stop me. What a kid would normally bounce back from like rubber, I did not. My wrists have always been weak, have scar tissue and sometimes hurt during practice and predict the weather like an old woman. My TRUE PURPOSE: I wish to achieve arm balances because they will help me to strengthen my wrists, so I don’t injure them again as easily.
      1. Outcomes of using this TRUE PURPOSE: Both wrists are definitely stronger, but I am also still very much aware of when “enough is enough” for them during practice, and I have been OK with stopping at that point, instead of letting my ego take over. “Jillian- you can’t strengthen your wrists if you strain them too hard.”
    2. Everyone tells me that arm balances have much more to do with core strength, than upper body strength. I have no idea what they are talking about sometimes. I am still learning what to do with my abdomen and breathing in the various arm balances that I experiment from time to time. I guess that is why sometimes they are out of my grasp, and other times I pop up into them, and am very surprised and happy for the few moments I hang out there.
      1. Outcomes of using this TRUE PURPOSE: When starting with handstand up the wall, then tentatively taking one foot, and then the other, off the wall to balance in a full handstand, I have been able to hold it for about 10 seconds. AHHHHH! I could feel my core working during this posture, but I still have more introspection, and perhaps a few workshops to attend, before I know what to do with my tummy during Crow or any variation of pretty much any other arm balancing inversion. I wonder if it is the openness of handstand that makes me engage my core more? This TRUE PURPOSE has helped me to activate my Svadhyaya practice, to learn more!
    3. These strength and core balance poses are about liberation. Can you let go and release, taking your chances, allowing your mind to trust your body in such a (potentially) dangerous posture? Or, are you still holding back out of fear? Do you trust yourself?
      1. Outcomes of this TRUE PURPOSE: I have started to give myself “trust yourself pep-talks”. Low self-esteem and a fear of failure have kept me from taking so many risks in my life… many regrets. I don’t wish to have any regrets regarding yoga. I want to say that I tried everything I could, and even if I cannot obtain it, I can honestly say that I have my best effort and was meant to learn from the experience.
    4. Jillian, what is the TRUE PURPOSE of those big stretches, such as Monkey Pose, or Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose, that you wish to achieve?
      1. I have very tight hamstrings, and have partially torn the right one after too much yard work and not enough proper stretching. I also know that they are connected to my lower back, upper back and glutes, so whenever I am having back pain, I know that I am probably tight in my hammies.
        1. Outcomes of listening to this TRUE PURPOSE: Some days (when I’ve had enough water), I can get mostly into these big hamstring openers. Other days I can’t. This informs me very much of my hydration for that day. It also has helped me play with props such as chairs, and the strap, to assist me in getting deeper into poses gradually, without overdoing it.
      2. These large stretches are about flexibility in the large areas of life. Hamstrings are large muscles, connected to the largest joints, tissues and tendons in your entire body. While you may think you are flexible or “laid back” in many, small areas, in the big ones, you may still have a ways to go. I definitely know this is something I need to work on. I am pretty laid back in the tiny areas of life, but in the big issues, where I am unwilling to budge, I know I should learn to forgive, or be patient with, or allow for mistakes, with others, and myself more.

 

I have no idea if this will assist you, but it certainly has helped me. My ego will listen to things that are more important, and won’t pester me so much when certain poses of others make me melancholy about my own asana practice. EGO < TRUE PURPOSE

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