Welcome back to my blog (or welcome if you've never been here before 😳), I know it's been a while since I've last written, but life just happens fast sometimes. Anyhow, here we are. At my blog, my own little corner of the world wide web. And I'm about to get personal in a way I haven't really done before.
We all know I practice yoga (if you didn't know that, explore the rest of my site 😄), and we all know that the physical (or asana) practice is only one of the 8 limbs of yoga (if you're not familiar, check out Yoga Journal's incredibly simplified breakdown of the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga). But what we don't all know (until now, I suppose) is that I struggle, with this practice.
In his classic work the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes yoga as "the progressive quieting of the fluctuations of the mind." He then explains that through dedicated practices and the cultivation of detachment, we will stop identifying with the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that can cause us so much pain -- and we will open to an experience of our true self.
As with many things that get brought to the west from eastern culture, things tend to get lost in translation. Over the course of the short time I've been immersed in the yoga world I've heard many definitions of the "true" purpose of yoga including, "uniting the mind and body" "to reach our true nature as humans" and my personal favorite "to transcend the ego". I believe all of these are true to some extent, but for the purposes of this post I'm gonna focus on that last bit about the ego.
I started practicing yoga to impress the guy I was dating. He was (is?) into yoga big time; I was eager to get on his good side, so I thought I'd give it a try. So right away my practice started out egotistically. When I met said boyfriend, he told me that there was a girl that he previously dated for a short bit that he was very much into, so much so that he thought she could be the one. I could tell he was still hung up on her, so I did what any naïve, codependent, psychotic millennial does: I found her social media and stalked her life (don't judge me). What I found made me cry: the girl was gorgeous, good at yoga, and had hundreds of thousands of followers. FUCK! How do I even compete with that?! Continuing with the codependent, psychotic theme, I did what I thought would win him over: I tried to become this girl. Think slightly-less-psychotic Single White Female shit. Granted, I had no idea what she was actually like in person, I was just going off of social media posts. I traded my glasses for contacts, got hair extensions, started getting weekly mani/pedis, attempted to learn how to apply makeup (I still suck at it to this day), I tried to be fake happy and nice all the time...you get the point.
The relationship with the guy didn't last, but the one thing I did take away from it was the love I developed for the yoga practice. That, and the fact that he taught me how to parallel park my truck -- no easy feat. Which brings me back to the ego. It started out as wanting to be good at the poses to impress the boy. Next it turned into wanting to be good at the poses to feel a sense of accomplishment for myself. Then it became wanting to be happy and find that "true nature" Patanjali speaks of. Now it's doing the yoga to sit in meditation to quiet the mind and come to have a better understanding of who I truly am and how I exist in this world. And I'm sure as I progress in my practice there will be other reasons I keep coming back to the mat. But the thing is, in each and every one of those steps my ego is right there beside me like a shadow that won't go away.
Originally my ego told me that I wasn't pretty enough to be with such a handsome, smart guy, so I needed to practice yoga to be "good enough" for him. Once the relationship ended my ego (and inner cheerleader) told me I needed to push myself to the edge in my asana practice to feel worthy. Then my ego started taunting me telling me that I should continue to practice yoga and meditation in attempt to find the inner peace that I knew I would never have. But now my ego sits comfortably (most days) in the back of my mind, gently urging me to push myself in my asana practice, but also telling me when to back off so I don't get hurt. It tells me to meditate daily, because being still for an 10/15/20/60 minutes a day is SO. DANG. HARD. It tells me to watch, listen and learn, but not compare myself to another carbon based being because I have no idea what they're going through.
I've reached a plateau in my yoga practice. Sure, the asanas are progressing and I'm learning quickly, but there are 7 whole other limbs of yoga, remember? So I recently signed up for a pranayama (breath work) series at Balance Yoga. It's hard. It's hard as hell. Who knew breathing was so damn hard?! And I am not good at it (yet). Here is where that ego of mine comes creeping back up, "Bri, you suck. You can't even breathe? Loser." I get frustrated at myself for not being able to practice breathing techniques. Then I get frustrated at the fact that I got frustrated for the other thing, I am supposed to be practicing aparigraha (nonattachment or noncovetness) after all.
In all this, something has happened. I've had an another aha moment (they happen sometimes). Who gave ego such a negative connotation? Freud conceded that the ego attempts to mediate between id and reality, merely separating out what is real and helping us to organize our thoughts and make sense of the world around us. Like a sounding board buffering between those innate, primal desires and our common sense that prevents us from breaking the law or killing ourselves. I don't know about you, but why would I want to get rid of that? Without my ego, I'd be going balls to wall all the time! My ego tells me when to pump the brakes, when to not try out that cool pose I saw on Instagram because my cat is not a teacher, when to not drunk text my crush at 3 in the morning after 1 beer too many (which is usually 2 beers). What I'm saying is: our egos can actually be beneficial to our growth if we let it.
There's the old parable about the Cherokee Indian teaching his grandson about life and the internal fight between the wolves. One wolf represents anger, envy, sorrow, etc. The other represents joy, peace, love, humility, kindness, etc." The grandson thought about it for a minute then asked, "Which wolf will win?" to which the grandfather replied "The one you feed."
Both wolves still exist. Of course I will feed all the positive aspects of my life. However, no matter what happens life is continuously gonna throw something insane at me. So that evil wolf of my ego will still reside in the deepest, darkest corners of my being, nibbling on the scraps of my problems and insecurities. I will probably spend the rest of my life working to free myself of my said ego, but I don't think I could ever abandon it completely. Instead I hope to be able to walk with it in stride, using it as a tool to understand myself and my place in the world just a little bit better. Instead of separating myself from the ocean as a droplet constantly striving to be different and better than the rest, realizing that I am one drop of many of the same and that together we all contribute to the greatness of the sea.
The opinions expressed are purely my own and reflect my personal experience of the 2 years and 9 months I've been practicing yoga. If you disagree, wanna curse me out, call me dumb, or have something to add, drop a line in the comments; all thoughts are welcome.
Meanwhile, I'll end this with Kanye because who has more of an ego than he, amirite? 😂