By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
What is the biggest obstacle to Yoga practice? Training one’s ego to take a back seat is part of a Yoga practice. Our egos often undermine attempts to better ourselves, which seems surprising at first, until one realizes that the ego is not the Self. When we use the word “ego” in this context, we are referring to the mind. This definition of ego may differ from the definitions used in psychology.
The ego is a false self, which is created when individuals mistake their thinking mind as their Self. Thought cannot exist without consciousness. However, consciousness can run on autopilot (without much thought). When the mind believes itself to be the Self, much fear arises. The ego is a fragile entity, viewing itself as an isolated fragment. This fragmentation is the cause of much unease and suffering.
Viewpoint as an Obstacle to Yoga Training
The ego views the world from a viewpoint where it is under constant attack from other egos. Everything, including compromise, seems to spell death to the ego because it deeply fears losing control; and it is not a real being. This is where the compulsive need to be right in an argument stems from. To be wrong about anything – means “death,” to the ego.
The ego likes to either dwell on the past, or imagine a future, because it can put itself in those two places. There is no place for the ego where there is stillness. Yoga is a significant threat to the ego because it calms the mind, rendering it silent, and exposes the ego as an unhappy impostor of the true Self.
The ego also attaches itself to, and gets its identity from, problems and labels. Anything that will fix a problem will be resisted by the ego. If one thinks he or she has a weight problem, and takes up the practice of Yoga to counter it, the ego will eventually begin to undermine the practice because the ego thinks it has a weight problem. Taking the weight problem away is threatening, and the ego would rather be unhappy and overweight than not exist at all.
The Mind as an Obstacle to Yoga Training
Strangely, the ego is not our enemy. In the true light, the ego is the mind when it is out of control. The mind is a beautiful tool to be used when needed, but there are times when the mind should stop its senseless chatter and be silent.
When the mind begins listing all the reasons why you should not do your Yoga practice for the day, just sit back and listen. Listen, but do not judge. Note that you are the one who is listening. The ego is doing the talking. Observing the ego is all that is needed to render it powerless.
Enhancing the power of observation is the beginning of freedom from the ego and mind chatter. Continued Yoga practice will help you continue your life’s journey with a quiet and focused mind – free from fear and distraction. The ego cannot control anyone as an obstacle to Yoga practice if the practitioner has a trained mind. In fact, our training is built by testing the mind under stress. The ego does a fantastic job of creating stressful situations, by imagining an infinite number of threatening outcomes.
Ego as a Trainer
In many cases, the ego can create more imaginary threats, than reality can provide. That said, we can turn the tables on the ego by using it as a teacher. Sometimes, a tough teacher is useful in preparing us for real life situations. In working with one’s ego, when we recognize the constant negative chattering, we cannot take our minds off finding the solution. It is up to us to observe, focus, let go, react, or create a solution for a real situation. We have to put mind chatter back to sleep and create our best solution within another round of practice.
Solutions for the Ego
There is much disagreement about how to cope with one’s ego. Counseling is an option. In the case of mental, emotional, and/or physical problems it is wise to seek counseling. The depth of a problem is revealed by the circumstances it creates. Ego state therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and psychodynamic psychotherapy are treatments for ego problems that need professional counseling.
However, for many people, it is wise to know the difference between a daily brush with one’s ego and an ego that requires counseling. Training the mind with tools, such as Yoga, meditation, and pranayama, gives students valuable life skills that enable us to see reality without being disturbed by it. At the same time, life is full of people who say, “That will never work.” We often here the ego say the same statement about everything. An ego that has run wild does not want Yoga, walking, counseling, exercise, or praying to become a solution toward harnessing its power.
If we have a serious problem with the ego, everyone who loves us already knows about it. Even if we are in denial for life, the ego will not remain silent. We started by considering the ego as an obstacle to Yoga practice. Yet, we could easily see the ego as a serious obstacle to a quality life. The solution is to control it or get professional help to cope with an ego that needs to be harnessed. Coping with the ego is a daily activity all of us must do, whether we like it, or not, the ego has a daily mission.
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10 thoughts on “Obstacle To Yoga – Ego”
“Observing the ego is all that is needed to render it powerless.”
I’m guessing you could now probably elaborate more specifically on HOW one could put this practice to practice…in one’s Practice.
A very valuable insight. But may be difficult, or complicated, or ___? for some to “get”. I mean, for me…I, myself…have been working on and observing this for years now. And I “know” no more.
When I wrote: “Listen, but do not judge. Note that you are the one who is listening. The ego is doing the talking. Observing the ego is all that is needed to render it powerless.”
Time must be spent mastering listening without judging. This is not just internally, but externally, as well. This is not an easy task and it requires time. We must learn to practice and apply it to life every day.
Try not judging yourself for an hour a day and expand the practice toward not judging anyone. After a month, expand non-judgement for two hours. Keep adding one hour per month for 16 months.
At that point, you will have mastered what very few people can do. You will be at peace with yourself and everyone around you.
Thank you Dr. Jerard !
I just re-read this article again. There is SO much in what you are saying here and I think you did an excellent job putting this lifelong practice into a few words.
My response this time was: Why not have a course specifically for the “blending” – of the listening (as a way to “deal” with the ego) and specific yoga practices ? Or maybe you already include this in advanced classes ?
We do touch this subject during classes and in our mindfulness meditation course. It’s a matter of maintaining a steady practice. In fact, observing the ego is a form of training the mind to handle stress. It seems the ego is capable of manufacturing our deepest fears by using our most negative thoughts against us. So, the training does test one’s fortitude, but a trained focuses on creating solutions.
Namaskar Anita and Kevin,
Anita: Thank you for your kind words.
Kevin: We do address the ego and how to peacefully coexist with it in our onsite Yoga teacher training sessions, but there are many subjects we discuss. You have a specific interest in a deep subject that requires time and the monitoring of personal progress. For this type of training, you have two choices.
1. Seek out a competent guru, who will guide you on the journey.
2. Try the 16 month program independently and monitor your progress daily.
Self-management is a powerful asset in life.
A course to address the ego and how to peacefully coexist with it is of importance only to an advanced practitioner. However, most Yoga practitioners seem to be primarily concerned with physical postures (asanas) and their benefits.
Therefore, I suggest the 16 month self-management method.
Thank you for this very simply put and clear explanation to the nature and origin of this egoic self. I will be sharing this with others.
Thank you !! I love reading your articles. This one in particulr struck home and is just what I needed to read today. Ego is spinning a story about my inadequacy as a teacher. After listening (“observing the ego renders it powerless”), I teach a class with clarity and caring, and know that ego’s chatter is groundless fear and is without substance. As my friend says, “Don’t believe everything you think.”
Thank you again
Your friend is absolutely right.
Have a wonderful day.
Continued Yoga practice help us to continue our life’s journey with a quiet and focused mind, Thanks for sharing this great article.
The ego is a fragile entity, viewing itself as an isolated fragment. This fragmentation is the cause of much unease and suffering.Its really very informative post, Thanks for sharing.