Seduced by my Ego

“Come to a comfortable seated position, palms together at your chest, and set an intention for your practice,” the yoga teacher breathes out slowly, the words dancing along the long, drawn out breaths of her body.

I will focus inward and not worry about what other people are doing today. Everything but my practice will stay off my mat.

Easier said than done.

When I began practicing yoga 8 years ago, I went for the exercise. I clenched my abdominals tightly in poses where the intention was to relax the muscles of the body. I took a vinyasa at every opportunity available to me, in hopes of sweating a little bit more. As I moved through my practice, I watched myself critically in the mirrors of the yoga studio, thoughts swirling in my head. I would push my body so that the poses looked good, rather than listening to how my body felt. My body and mind were completely disconnected.

Much of my life was spent moving through a dense fog of worry about what everyone thought of me. Little did I know that all those people I was worried about were living in a similar daze, concerned about what I was thinking of them. It’s hard to believe that other people were and are afraid of being judged by me when I live in a state of fear of them, but that’s how ego works. The ego drives fear, anxiety, worry, and concern within us, causing us to feel afraid and nervous about how we look, how we speak, and how we behave in social situations. The ego, tucked away deep within the depths of our brains, seduces us into believing false truths and incomprehensible, unreal realities.

Each time I practice yoga, I come to my mat with the intention not to worry about what everyone else in the class is doing. As I move through my practice, I believe that everything I’m doing is solely for myself and that I don’t care what other people think about me. Wrong. My ego is tricking me into believing that my practice is all about me, when, in reality, I am worrying what other people are thinking of me without even noticing it. Even when I think I’m only focusing on myself, I’m unconsciously spending energy on what people think of me.

“Breath in, let all air out. Breath in and ommmmmmmmmmm.”

As I breathe in alongside the group and begin to let my voice be heard, my mind takes over.

Don’t om too early. Hold it. Feel it vibrating through your body. Okay, people are stopping. You should stop too so the people beside you don’t hear you.

“Now, move into your first down dog.”

Man, I’m tight today. Why am I so stiff? All I want to do is wiggle my legs around and move. Is anyone else moving?

I subtly glance between my legs to the people around me to see if they are moving in their downward dogs. With confirmation that I am not the only stiff yogi in the class, I begin to move.

From the very beginning of my yoga practice, my ego stokes the fear of judgment, preventing me from feeling free to let the powerful vibrations of a group om be heard by others; preventing me from listening to what my body wants and needs in my first downward dog, for fear of what people might think.

As the yoga teacher guides me into warrior one, I feel a familiar discomfort in my hips. I have practiced yoga long enough to know that I should shorten my stance in order to get my hips facing forward. As I peer into the mirror at the people around me, my mind races once again.

I wish my warrior one looked like hers. Why can’t my hips be that open? Why is this so uncomfortable? If I move my back leg in, I’m going to look ridiculous. I’m better at yoga than this.

My body is telling me to shorten my stance; my ego is telling me to stay put and look good for the other people in the room. So I stand, trying to breathe, in discomfort and pain, looking good.

We move into tree pose, and as I stand, feeling grounded to the floor and connected to my mind and body, the instructor encourages us to play around. Before moving in any way that may be considered “weird”, I glance around the room to see what other people are doing. As I move, I am intensely aware of my balance for fear of falling over and being labeled as “bad at yoga”.

It was not until recently that I realized that my yoga practice, a place where I felt I was safe from fear of judgment, was one of the places where I was trying to impress the most. The thing is, I want to be good at yoga; however, it is hard to be good at yoga when I am spending my time practicing looking good.

Breaking free of my ego is a practice I have yet to perfect, but it begins with awareness. Now, when I come to my mat and the yoga teacher asks me to set an intention for my practice, I think to myself, “Today, I will be aware of my ego.”