When we are on the mat we all know the theory: breathe consciously, align your body in postures and still the mind. But as soon as you start to move and the asanas become more complex, many well-known voices appear: “how complicated”, “I can’t do that”, “try harder”, “I have to get it”, “I should…”, “I should…”. The recurring demons that come back again and again, the comparison with the one next to you, when not with yourself in other moments of your life. The demand, the desire to flee or abandon, etc. The ego, asmite. Your intimate enemy.
The ego is usually shown as an enemy to fight. It has multiple forms, control, demand, abandonment or comparative among others. But it is also a fundamental part of our nature, by realizing that we exist as individuals.
Even if you have a very advanced practice, it always takes on new forms. We are not only talking about the ego for exhibiting or showing us out with the most acrobatic postures possible (how much damage Instragram has done), but about much more subtle states. Sometimes fruit of the knowledge acquired by thousands of repetitions you know which concrete muscle to stretch, where to direct your attention and your gaze, where to take your hands and where to go. With these thoughts has already caught us again. Every day you improve a little more in treating yourself more gently, in doing from a humble place and without objectives. And, always, by some nook the ego finds its way. It likes to be in control, because that is another aspect.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your flexibility or your strength, or if it’s a simple ballasana or a more advanced posture such as a Mayurasana prick. The moment you set yourself a goal, or analyze whether the posture will be good or not (ay, the judgment, another of its appearances), it seems that the ego will never leave you. And no matter how much the teachers repeat: “listen to your body”, “do according to your possibilities”, “what is good for you is enough”, “you don’t need to get anywhere” there is something internal that resists letting go.
Everything arises in general from an idea very entrenched in Western society, the need to achieve. The progress of any practice is measured by setting goals, overcoming limitations and looking for the new challenge to overcome. From there appear frequently the sensations that one is not doing yoga until one is able to reach a posture. But that only feeds the ego, insatiable in its conquests that, according to what one reaches, is already looking for the next one. Luckily, yoga is not about that, as Jigar Gor puts it very well:
“Yoga is not about touching your feet with your head, but about everything you learn until it happens.
Then we tend to regard our ego as an enemy. As another obstacle to overcome or conquer. And again the ego has dominated us. But we can also consider the ego as something necessary. And, only by being able to recognize our individual being, the consciousness of the self that is natural, will we be able to make our journey of spiritual quest. The ego is therefore good and bad at the same time. Since we exist on the physical and corporeal plane, we have a feeling of the self and everything with which we identify that self. It is the characters created around us that turn it against us. The ego is in part the one that makes us follow the path of spiritual search, find the path that makes us connect with our pure essence and makes us transcend it.
In yoga sutras there are two terms for ego. One is ahamkara, which is a part of the mental structure that gives us the sensation of the I, of individual. The other is asmita, the ego understood as the center of everything, an egocentrism that makes us believe that there is only our point of view, that we have the truth and reason, that everything should be based on our beliefs. Asmita is considered one of the kleshas, the origins of suffering. And following the teachings of Patanjali, the function of yoga is to suppress mental fluctuations, among them that ego that dominates our actions.
Because there is also the ego of the teacher, the one who wants to be the great motivator, the one who teaches you to excel and reach incredible postures or the one who possesses the absolute truth. Everyone needs to understand their own truth, to understand that we are not this body, nor this mind, nor this created character. For me the most advanced postures are those that take you to a greater concentration and equanimity, to a deeper knowledge of yourself that transforms how your day to day is, even if on the mat it looks like a simple tadasana.
Silencing the ego does not mean that all the personality we have created over the years disappears overnight, but rather that we make friends with it so that we can make a conscious choice.
Therefore the ego is inevitable, it is part of our existence in the earthly world. But it is also what allows us to experience the world. Following Patanjali (Y.S. 2.18) drsya, the perceptible world aims to be experienced and liberated. In order to be able to transit into the world, one must be able to understand that this life is sensory and is to be experienced and then seek liberation. It is fundamental then to unlearn all demonizing beliefs about the ego and about ourselves. To unlearn what we believe we are because we are not our ego. However we can give full validity to our individual perceptions, to empower ourselves with our senses and decisions. Feel consciously.
That’s why you don’t let go of your ego. He can be seen as a travelling companion who will be there all his life. We can be friends with his tricks and his intentions, and the more we know them, the easier it is for us not to fall into them. The more humility and kindness I put into what I do, the more likely I won’t get caught. It is through making myself conscious, in the act of realizing, that I can become detached from the inner voice that pulls at me, I can disidentify myself from what I think I am, and see myself more as the spectator of all that farce. Consciousness is a spectator, not the subject.
So the more I can discern which part is genuine and which arises from a runaway (asmite) self, the more I empower myself, the more I listen to myself, and the more I respect myself. The voices will reappear, the desire to achieve will arise again, but I will be gaining the ability to decide something different, more in tune with myself. As Indra Devi says:
“yoga is a path of liberation. Constant practice frees us from fear, loneliness and anguish” all fruit of the belief of the self.
What I’ve learned about the ego and what I like to convey in my classes is that it’s always going to be there. I have learned to enjoy physical practice, without forcing myself or demanding myself, because when I want to go farther than my body allows me in each moment, it is not me, but my ego. When I can observe it, when I realize its game, then I can choose to return to the space of care, to the selfless action that does not lead me to fall into extremes, respecting my body, to be conscious.
And so, when I don’t have control, when I act from my essence, for an instant I have managed to silence my ego.
By: Jonatan González