How many times have you been in a yoga class, heard the teacher cue an arm balance, and thought, “Yeah, no.“?
We’ve all been there. It’s the end of a sweaty flow, your arms are tired, and you couldn’t do one more chaturanga if you wanted to. No way are you going to even attempt that new pose right now. You drop down into child’s pose, and peek underneath your shoulder at the room around you.
A yogi you’ve been glancing at throughout class, who seems to not feel the effects of gravity, glides right into the pose and holds it like time has stopped still. It’s a picture perfect moment, they don’t even look like they’re trying. Are they even sweating?
You turn your forehead back to the earth and think to yourself, I wish I could do that.
I can’t tell you how many times this exact scenario has played out on my mat, particularly in my first few months of practice. A large part of yoga is learning to drop the ego and allow your practice to revolve around you, but unfortunately, we’re all human. I don’t think there’s a single being on this planet (even the ones with shaved heads in the Himalayas) that doesn’t feel a twinge of jealousy now and then.
Back in the beginning, the second I’d feel envy, no matter how exhausted or fatigued I was, I’d push past it. I’d scrunch my eyebrows, squeeze my lips together, and hold my breath, because I was going to get that pose, damn it.
There was a certain element of challenge to it. Someone else in the room was displaying that it was possible, so I had to do everything in my power to do it, too. Of course, this thought process is ridiculous- no one else in the room (the teacher or the students) is going to think more or less of me because of what’s going on in my practice.
It wasn’t an outer voice telling me to be better, it was a voice inside: the Ego.
Practicing yoga requires you to tune in to a different radio frequency. You need to look past the voice yelling at you to do more and be more and listen to a quieter one- a voice that speaks to what’s truly going on. We all have it inside of us, but our everyday lives are so busy and loud that we hardly ever hear it. It’s only once we practice being with our breath and being present on our mat that we can shift into this new frequency and understand what our body is telling us.
Today, I know my limits much better than before. I know when my shoulders don’t need another vinyasa, even if the rest of the class is pushing through. I know when an inversion will feel weightless and restorative, and when it will be dangerous and destructive. I know when I have more to give, and I know when to back off. This new sense of awareness carries over into other parts of my life, too. I know when I can handle new responsibilities and when I’ve reached my limit. I know when to say yes, and when to say no.
One of the best compliments I ever received was from a yogi at Just Be. She said, “I just want to tell you that I really respect how you don’t let your ego interfere with your practice. You listen to your body and you can really see the respect you have for it.”
She shared with me that when she was younger, she suffered an injury from pushing past the point that her body was telling her was enough. It caused her practice to suffer as she recovered, but she learned an important lesson from the event. I was so touched that she shared her story with me, and that she saw the effort I put into respecting my limits on the mat.
Dropping the Ego is difficult. It won’t ever be quiet or stop talking, and the real practice is in learning to ignore it. Just like meditation is the practice not of stopping thoughts, but refusing to engage them, the Ego needs to be fed in order to dominate your existence. Only you can make the choice of who to nourish: yourself, or the Ego.