Those that begin yoga as a way to improve health and fitness usually find, after a period of time, that the mind plays a larger role in yoga than they originally thought. While yoga can be beneficial to the mind by helping to calm and focus it, we also have to be careful that the ego doesn’t get in the way of our progress. Yoga practice should be centered on the self, but not self-centered. Let’s take a look at how the ego interacts with yoga.
A False Sense of Self
While it is important to have a sense of our true self, the ego, all too often, distorts that image. When beginning something new, such as yoga, it is not unusual for there to be voices of self doubt. We think we are not good enough to do something or do not know enough to be able to do it well. This self doubt even comes to experienced yogis. They may doubt whether they can do a particular advanced pose, thinking they will fall, for example, or lack sufficient strength or flexibility.
At the other end of the scale, pride can give us a false sense of superiority. We may think we already know a particular pose and do not need to learn more. While self doubt stops us from exploring or learning something new, pride shuts the door on further and deeper understanding, something that is always available in yoga.
The mind and the ego are usually moving faster than the body, and if we are not careful, the ego can take us down the wrong path. It is the ego, or not paying attention, that can cause yoga injuries, trying to do more than we should. We do ourselves a favor in yoga if we teach the ego to be quiet.
Quiet the Ego: Less Thinking, More Observing
Though it is difficult to quiet the mind, a first step is to become more observant. Focus on a particular action or aspect of a pose when you are practicing yoga. While you might watch with your eyes, also use your senses internally. What does it feel like as you move into a pose or try to maintain it. Where is there tension or difficulty? Where in the body is ease and freedom of movement? How does the body feel overall?
These types of observations and questions may seem subtle, esoteric or hard to grasp, but they can be quite helpful when doing yoga. With practice, they also become easier. Just as it takes our bodies time to learn yoga asanas, it takes practice for our mind to become more observant and quiet.
This all takes practice; it cannot be rushed or forced. If that happens, then the ego has taken charge again. The ego is useful in some parts of life, but not as our yoga teacher. The quiet part of our mind, the silent observer that listens to the intelligence of the body, is our best guide in yoga.
In Yoga Class
It is a fairly common saying that yoga students should leave their pride and ego at the door when they enter a yoga studio. Comparing yourself to other students in class, either favorably or unfavorably, is a common mistake. Yoga is not a spectator sport; we should only be watching ourselves.
We should also be receptive to the knowledge and instruction that a teacher has to offer. Thinking that we know more than the teacher or that correction or adjustment will not help our pose means we are being prideful and resistant to learning. This assumes, of course, that the teacher is experienced and qualified.
During Home Practice
It is also easy to fall into pride and ego traps in home yoga practice. Thinking that we don’t need to work on or practice a particular pose can be one of the first warning signs. We can all improve all of our poses. Yoga is a lifelong practice, and even yoga masters continue to study, explore and learn.