We all know we should try to leave our thoughts, worries, judgments and most especially our egos at the door of a yoga class. Egoic is the opposite of yogic. And to live ‘yogically’ is to leave ego behind the door you walk through, into a more meaningful and spiritual life.
Unfortunately, egos are pretty constant companions for most of us, but just like your shadow disappears when the sun is overhead in the middle of the day (and of course is non-existent at night), you can try to see the light and let your ego fade into the background at least some of the time.
The yoga mat is a great place to start to detach from ego. Here’s how to leave your ego at the door:
1. Recognize that you are not your ego.
You probably know this intellectually, but in a yoga class—an environment that is about self (and inner self) and not competition—you are supported and guided into this sense of awareness that you are so much more than your ego identity.
2. Don’t judge or compare.
Yoga is not a competitive sport, so try not to judge or compare. Resist comparing yourself favorably to others (puffed up pigeon pride) and avoid judging yourself negatively in comparison to that super-bendy yogi in the front row.
While the aim is to internalize your own practice, if you must check out others, then do so with admiration and compassion. And show yourself that same compassion when you find yourself judging, because you’re human after all.
3. Don’t play the victim.
Don’t let your ego make excuses for your practice. Show yourself compassion for how you practice asana on any given day—there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ days, just different days.
But don’t let self-compassion turn to wallowing in ‘limitations’ because of a shoulder injury or the fact that your hips are tight because of all that past pain you suffered a.k.a. the ‘issues in your tissues’ you carry around. Acknowledge your strengths and accept your weaknesses. Know that victim identity can be just as ‘big’ an ego as the ‘arrogant asshole’ identity.
4. Realize it is all about separation.
Your ego only thrives when it carves out an identity for yourself that is separate from the real you—the ‘you’ that is universal and not impacted by circumstances. It reinforces your separate identity by making you feel separate from others (competition and comparison), so that your true universal essence can’t see the same universal essence in others.
If you internalize your practice while still being open to the positive energy of your classmates and teacher, you can have a really powerful experience of union.
5. Be grateful.
Sometimes beyond playing the victim, we can play martyr, especially as parents putting the needs of children before our own. I give myself the self-care gift of yoga as often as I can and this strongly removes me from any creeping sense of martyrdom. I am lucky and grateful to have yoga, and the support of my family to make it a big part of my life.
6. Don’t make being a yogi your ego identity.
Self-righteous and self-absorbed yogis who turn postures into poses and who wax on with a sense of superiority about the yogic lifestyle may be practicing asana, but they aren’t practicing yoga.
I gain self-esteem and a sense of belonging through the presence of yoga in my life and the gift of being a new yoga teacher in particular, but I derive self-esteem from many facets of my life. And I try to connect with my universal self as much as I can.
I like to tell my ego to shut up–whether she’s being the nasty bitch or the overly-dramatic ‘woe is me’ whiner. Sometimes she goes off and sulks in the corner and I find space and stillness. Heart-opening postures help as well.
But perhaps in our yoga practice, the ultimate way to silence our egos is to find ourselves in a place where we can greet each other with a genuine ‘Namaste’–bowing before each other with the understanding that when we recognize the divine spark within ourselves and in others, we are all one. And there is no room for ego.