Taming Your Ego
I have to admit that I can sometimes be a jealous, judgemental yogi. I know I’m not perfect and will likely never have a mind free from impure thoughts, but one of the reasons I come to the mat is to work on making myself a better person: mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. I have to work hard to make sure I check my ego at the yoga studio door and that it stays there!
In Yoga Sutra 2.33, Yamas and Niyamas, Patanjali explains that, “When these codes of self-regulation or restraint (yamas) and observances or practices of self-training (niyamas) are inhibited from being practiced due to perverse, unwholesome, troublesome, or deviant thoughts, principles in the opposite direction, or contrary thought should be cultivated.” I interpret this passage to mean that negative and critical thoughts are GOING to enter my mind. It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Allow yourself to feel the thoughts, recognize them, and then reverse each one with a positive affirmation about the object of your thought. If it’s negative self-talk that you are hearing, reward yourself with a positive affirmation. For example, if you notice or are worrying about a part of your body you aren’t very happy with, try to look at something you DO like. When you think something negative about someone else, you can reverse the negative path by thinking something nice. Slowly, your thought processes will become more harmonious with your practice. This is actually a pretty great method of meditation. I often find myself finally resting into Savasana and almost immediately I’ll start rattling off an annoying mental list of things that I need to do right after yoga class. Instead of beating myself up over not being able to still my mind, I’ve recently started to just allow myself to have the thoughts and let them pass. Slowly, I have noticed my relaxation become deeper and loud obsessive thoughts have become quieter. The Sutras go on to explain that if these thoughts are not reversed, or worse: are acted upon, the only two consequences are infinite misery and unending ignorance. Yikes!!
Chapter 86 of the The Study and Practice of Yoga: An Exposition of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (by Swami Krishnananda) is titled “The Hurdle of the Ego in Yoga Practice”. In this, it is written that you are the only thing keeping yourself from reaching the object of meditation. And that object is absolute peace of mind. I call this Nirvana. You can call it whatever you’d like. While your disruptive thoughts may be about someone or on something other than yourself, this is merely a peculiar illusion. Usually, when I find myself casting judgements on others, upon deeper inspection I realize that the object of my criticism in others is something I don’t like about myself. For example, I might stare at a couple of girlfriends talking and laughing on their mat before class and start thinking to myself, “How annoying! Those girls are so chatty and disruptive. It’s so rude.” Really, they aren’t annoying or rude at all, and I may be having critical feeling because I don’t have a lot of close female friends. This is called projection and it’s a sneaky by-product of insecurity.
My hope is that explaining why these thoughts might occur and providing a few suggestions as to how to remedy this mildly obnoxious situation you might often find yourself in, you can slowly work towards a more positive, peaceful frame of mind and state of being.