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Is ego propping up your practice?

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

backbend over cushion
Image credit: Wee Lee (unsplash)

Here is one curious thing about yoga you may not know. It teaches us something that is contrary to the way we mostly live our lives.

Here we are in life, a slave to the expectations. We put pressure on ourselves to achieve, to impress, to get rich, to even just get things done. We have to have goals… don’t we?

Are you propping up your ego by not using props? (See what I did there?)

Yoga teaches us, instead, to let go of striving. It teaches us to let go of all the doing, and just be. (Big sigh of relief!) It doesn’t mean we can’t have goals, or achieve anything. We still live in this World, after all. But it can teach us to let go of ego in our yoga practice, and at the very least, practice self-care, instead of all the pushing. We learn the difference in our bodies between discomfort (just stick with it), and pain (no thanks). We get to know ourselves inside out.

Yoga is about balance.

In yoga, we find balance between effort, and ease (In Sanskrit, sthira and sukha). We don’t force anything or push past our edge (because there lies the pain). We let go of being better than other people in a yoga class. We let go of ‘achieving’ the poses. Instead, we want to be in the moment, and accept what’s here in the moment.

We let go of expectations of ourselves and judgements of ourselves and just meet ourselves where we are at.

Here is the place where we can use props. Once we get to know ourselves intimately, and connect to ourselves without judgment and expectation, we can work out what we need. Perhaps we need to use a strap, or a block, or sit on a blanket or a cushion. This can change from day-to-day or class-to-class, but the key is to check in with ourselves and notice when we're striving or pushing past our limits.

If we approach our yoga practice in this way, yoga props can help us awaken to our own body’s intelligence. We use the props to help us find our edge. The body will tell us when we’ve gone too far — we start to breathe more shallowly or hold the breath (hello, fight, flight or freeze mode!), or we tense up in the body, or if we don’t listen, there’s pain.

Learn to lose self-expectations

If we listen to the yoga master said to have invented the yoga strap, BKS Iyengar, props help us still the mind; get rid of all those expectations and judgments of ourselves, and any negative thoughts, worries and fears going around-and-around in our heads.

BKS Iyengar said: “For me, prop is not only for the asana (sic). It should contribute to the position of the body which in turn can let the mind be calm and state of ‘chitta vritti nirodha’* be experienced.”

The ‘success’ in yoga is all about both letting go of striving, and calming the mind. It’s about knowing ourselves, our bodies, intimately. It’s about being here, authentically in the present moment. Let’s use props to get there (or rather, get ‘here’).

*In the ancient yoga text the Yoga Sutras (Sutra 1.2), Patanjali lays out the definition and purpose of yoga. Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah: yoga is the cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind.

A Yoga Practice to Try

Ego Eradicator this Kundalini kriya (yoga of action or awareness), combines the short, sharp breathing practice/pranayama kapalabhati (breath of fire) with movement. It balances your energy, and like its name suggests, removes the ego, this way clearing your mind of those fluctuations and connecting you to your true and pure self.

Sometimes called bhastrika or bellows breathing, this advanced technique consists of forced, rapid, deep breathing where the chest is used like that of bellows, to get active inhalations and exhalations. It is an energising practice that strengthens the abdominals and respiratory system, improves blood flow, immunity, digestion and, mentally, improves awareness and memory.

We do this practice in a seated pose. Try sitting on a block or folded blanket to keep the spine straight.

Extend your arms out like a V, sticking your thumbs up towards the sky and curling the finger tips in towards the palms of your hand. Plug the shoulders back into the body.

Close your eyes and focus at the space between the eyebrows, or keep a soft gaze.

In this position, start the breath-of-fire practice for 1-3 minutes.

Take a deep breath in through the nose, then exhale the air firmly through the nose. Briefly pull in your stomach as you exhale. Then inhale firmly and quickly and exhale firmly and quickly. If you have never practised breath of fire, start with 10 breaths. If you are already trained, try 20 or more breaths. If you feel dizzy, pause and breathe in your normal rhythm and then try again. (This practise should not be done by people who have high or low blood pressure, or by those who are pregnant).

After the breath of fire, take a big breath in, extend out your fingers and bring the thumbs together, then exhale and float the arms down.

Try repeating the Ego Eradicator kriya 3 or more times.

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