Yoga + the Ego


Last night I went to a hot yoga class. Every so often my body calls out for a sweaty yoga sesh that pushes me to my edge.

I always have the best of intentions walking into class in order to feed my spirit, stretch and strengthen my muscles and connect my breath with the community that surrounds me.

But damn, does my inner critic catch fire in yoga studios. Immediately I was annoyed by the small talk coming from the sports bra clad blondes next to me decked out in mandala tattoos. The devil on my shoulder begins to judge these chicks, compares their body and their words and their clothes to my own. Of course, I come up short to my perceptions of these women.

My breath and the sensations rising in my body call on the angel on my other shoulder. This angelic side of myself tells me to calm down, check yourself, feel your body in this space, disconnect from the bullshit and the distractions you are diving into.

This kind voice is how I speak to my students in class. A softer, nurturing and wiser version of myself. That authenticity shocks me sometimes. I’ll hear myself teaching and I’m like, whoa, you just dropped some knowledge… the devil rolls her green eyes.

You’d be shocked to hear what this inner critic can lay down in a matter of seconds. This harsh dialogue really really enjoys coming out during yoga classes and the practice becomes competitive and ego driven.

The modern yoga studio is a business bursting with beautiful people and beautiful words. Many of these teachers and students have vast experience and knowledge, are well rounded instructors and walk the walk. Many more of these teachers have good intentions, but know nothing past the 200 hours they’ve been in teacher training and continuing ed via Instagram.

Call me harsh, call me judgmental - I am. I am also a seeker with a hunger to learn and be a better human, yoga student and instructor. Is it so hard to ask every student to keep their cell phone off their mat, and absolutely no Apple Watch checking during Savasana? Is it too much to ask to keep the talk of cleanses and detoxes away from the 60 minute Vinyasa Power Flow? Is it too cynical to assume saying ‘Gratitude’ more than three times in an hour is two too many?

I stay away from group classes and my inner dialogue is healthy. I fear that these triggers hold me back from deepening and strengthening my physical yoga practice and overall wellbeing. There are still highs and lows with the inner critic, but she doesn’t serve out low blows left and right about my body, my breath, my poses. Ideas that I am not good enough on all levels, in all factors of life, love and my physical body… All the while holding Dancer, competing with the blonde to my right.

Have you felt the same way?

So, what is truly going on here?

From my own experience, my mind is hyper aware of the surroundings, the students, the atmosphere of the space and the intentions of every human in the building. I have set a standard of what yoga SHOULD be and how classes SHOULD be taught. This is how I’m already setting myself up for failure. I’ve already created an ego driven practice. One motivated by competition, jealousy and a cynical attitude before even stepping foot onto my mat.

However, it’s tricky because my insecurities are feeding the ego - the opposite of what most of us describe as being ‘egotistical’. Egotistical is defined as: “being absorbed in oneself; self-centered”. I thought since I have a history of hating my body that means I don’t have a big ego and therefore it’d be impossible to be described as egotistical. Wrong, very wrong. Being overly in love or in hate with your image is the same energy, existing in the space of ego. I’m egotistical... Game changer.

During my 10 day Vipassana silent meditation retreat I had a vision of my ego. It looked like a foiled helium balloon from last weekends birthday party. Still afloat, but dented and sinking slowly. Like a tall, beautiful sunflower in the end of autumn.

I know my self-esteem needs a boost and my ego could use a hug.

The belief that I’m fat, I’m not strong, I’m not a good yogi are polar opposites to the truth. But these false beliefs are also feeding a strong negative energy that loves sucking the guts out of jealousy and self-loathing - two more emotions feeding that depressed ego.

How does one begin to let go of competition and jealousy?

I learned I’m very sensitive to the portrayal of yoga in the modern studio. I don’t go to group classes when I’m feeling extra emotional or overly energetic. I take note of the inner dialogue and learn from the experience rather than beat myself up or believe the words from the devil on my shoulder.

I surrender to forms of meditation. Laying on my back outside and watching the clouds go by, keeping awareness on my inhales and exhales has been incredibly healing. Slowing my asana practice down has been wonderful. Taking calmer Yin or Restorative classes has made a huge difference in my body and mindset.

Waking up earlier and going for a walk before the city awakens is a beautiful gift. Leaving my mobile phone at home and listening to the sounds of the birds, insects and breeze is another way to slow down and experience gratitude.

Upon waking, I roll to child’s pose in bed and scan my body up and down, simply asking “how am I feeling today”. Before bed I’ll lay flat and butterfly my legs, feet together like a prayer (baddha konasana) with hands on my belly or heart space and simply focus on the idea of being open and receptive to the lessons life is/will hand me.

I’m a firm believer in self-study and reflection. I free write when I’m overly emotional and let the pen and paper take the pain away. I’m a sucker for self-help books and yoga texts, keeping me from gluing myself to the television or social media.

Long story short, if you feel me - learn how to be in the now. Feel the body as it is. Be addicted to your personal growth. Connect to your breath. Allow the inner dialogue to run free but understand your thoughts are not real. Practice forgiveness for yourself and believe that in every moment, you have a chance to start over.

You truly create your own reality.

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© 2019 by Kaleigh Atkinson