It seems totally counterintuitive, but the trappings of the ego can be just as strong, if not strengthened, by any spiritual practice, yoga included.
We are the World
The ego is that part of our mind that creates the illusion of a self, separate from the world, and functions upon the principle of infinite desire to want, no matter how much we have. The illusion of ego is something that most spiritual practices and religions recognize and warn against.
This warning is well founded, as the ego is almost universally deemed by priests, psychologists, and gurus alike to be the root of suffering — the continual dissatisfaction we experience, even when we have it all.
Ego Wants to Kill the Ego
Most people, myself included, are drawn to spiritual practices like yoga (and that’s not just asanas, folks!) to learn how to temper, and hopefully one day overcome, our ego.
But as we proceed on this journey toward egolessness, we soon realize that this drive to overcome the ego is itself ego driven! That’s quite the paradox.
Once we are deeply entrenched in yoga, we can fall victim to yoga ego-mania. Has this happened to you? Do you find yourself judging others because they don’t practice yoga, or perhaps because they live contrary to certain yoga philosophies that you hold dear?
The Yoga Ego
Maybe you criticize other styles of yoga as being less true, valuable, or ‘authentic.’ As a teacher, I find this to be a huge challenge, as I often find myself thinking over the ways in which the yoga that I teach is better than other forms.
All of these thoughts are the sneaky ego asserting itself; it is the ego telling you that you have it right, that you are on the true path. It is the ego which supports and elevates the sense of worth of this false separate self, which wants you to feel a sense of superiority for associating yourself with a specific community or tradition.
Ironic isn’t it? What can be the path to liberation from the ego can also be a path to deeper ego-identification. Irony seems to be the name of the ego game, because as long as you play it, or pretend to be above it, there it is. It can rule everything you do.
The paths to liberation, of which yoga is simply one route among many, share a common truth: the only way to transcend ego is not to try to transcend it.
While this sounds like an impossible goal, there is hope. You can use the yogic practice of becoming present to free yourself from these difficult conundrums.
When we are totally present, feeling our bodies, our breaths, and watching our thoughts from a place of removal, known in yogic and Buddhist terms as ‘witness consciousness’ or ‘beginners mind’, we are simply here and now; in that moment, we become egoless.
But when we begin to judge the quality of the moment, and how it relates to our wants, desires and perceived needs, we open the door for our ego and invite it in.
So, ask yourself why you do yoga and be honest. What about it do you love, and why? What about it do you hate, and why? In what ways might you be using yoga, consciously or unconsciously, to feed your ego? Are you ready to stop striving and just let yourself be?