Sunday, 19 January 2014

Yoga Ego and Why Not to Ride It

"So funny. This is so not in your repertoire", or why I like getting my ass kicked

Everyone wants to be a guru these days. You want to be a guru, I want to be a guru. The woman on the second floor that went to a chakra balancing and primal scream seminar in forests of Sweden has something to say. So she fancies herself a guru too.

We live in this interesting multimedial world. The possibilities are so many that one is almost left feeling that something is wrong with him-/ herself if every wave that comes up isn't mounted and ridden like you're a pro. The world of yoga practice is no exception. There are schools, courses, festivals and seminars everywhere. There are workshops and styles and teachers of many kinds. I suppose that all roads still lead to Rome. Or was it Mysore?

I started practicing many years ago and I switch modes between feeling like a know-how egomaniac and insecurities about why I can't balance on the tip of my nose in the umpteenth series of Ashtanga vinyasa. I guess egomania and insecurities are tied in.

This is why I find that going to a teacher who deconstructs my notions and gets me to do pure "I will take whatever comes"- kind of practice extremely healthy for my path toward yoga. I try to call my practice exactly this: "a practice", instead of calling it yoga. I don't know what yoga is. Yoga is apparently a cessation of fluctuations of the mind. I haven't been there. I get small glimpses from time to time and I hope there will be more. I go to my practice. I can't go to yoga. A few more rebirths, and maybe then yoga will be a bit clearer for my simple human mind.

Back to the teacher I met in India in 2013. I went with a group of friends, all fellow practitioners on different levels. Some have practiced for many years and others for a few months. Being the one amongst them who practiced for 14+ years, I sort of felt I should have all the answers if anybody should wonder about anything. I should have this shit down. Yoga ego on the prowl.

And then we arrived to the shala. This humble, attentive teacher received us, let us do our own thing the first day, and I guess she observed.

Day two, she started adjusting and stiring our asana pots. She saw aspects of my movement patterns nobody else I have practiced with noticed or commented upon, as far as I know. I have a relatively broad range of movement, so my flexibility is often focused on. This teacher showed me that there are parts of my body where there is not much happening at all. We only had two weeks with her, so she went straight for the jugular. She led me into places where there was tightness and lack of dynamic energy that explained to me how the way I use my shoulder blades affects my udhyanabandha (it goes bye bye when I open my chest, unless I remember to do certain things). I was asked to roll my upper arms inward while doing a whole bunch of asanas, and my body didn't get it at first. "Roll them inward???", I thought. "So, funny! This is so not in your repertoire." she said once. Oh my! New stuff. New neural patterns and pathways being born. I fell, I shook, I resorted to straps and *GASP!* blocks to stabilize positions I though I was great at. Now I learned that I used my back where I though I was using my legs and so on. Pure student mode. So healthy! From arriving to the shala and thinking I was going to deliver this wonderful performance of my floaty intermediate series, I actually got to learn and to listen and to be humble. There was nothing to take pictures of to put on Facebook, as I was in training, being corrected, commented on and adjusted, so that I could be strong, healthy and calm. It was even a little bit scary going to practice every morning. I thought "what is coming today?". :-) Yoga ego. There came a point where I released myself to the teacher. Complete trust. The woman kicked my ass. Kicked it hard, in her calm, alignment conscious way. Surrendering to the teacher, there was not much room for ego to inhabit. No poetic yoga posts on Facebook. Just our tired faces and messy hair, and talk about how much we didn't know and how much there is yet to learn. I love this. That, for me is practice. Nothing to hang on the wall, nothing to filter on your Instagram. Because I am under training and it won't look especially interesting, unless the viewers see some beauty in my imperfection.

I love getting my ass kicked, because safe zones make my head swell. I start thinking that I have an answer to everything. In actuality, I have an answer to almost nothing. I might have a suggestion. I need a good beating, a teacher who leads me out of my repertoire. I have learned to float with what I am asked to do and ask for help when I am not sure where to go.

Yoga, meditation techniques, interpretations of ancient teachings and the new, the search for self-realization and freedom of mind and spirit have now become things accessible to anyone to ponder on, and express opinions about. You can enroll on a teacher training, we can buy books and the whole world is on the internet. Here's my blog, and who am I? We stumble upon websites of people who have practiced for a few years and because there is a website, they can be an authority on yoga. Perhaps some are. For most of us, it is that we crave to know the truth and it comforts us to think that we do. Attachment to that which is attained by non-attachment, if we are to trust the scriptures. Like Arjuna at the battlefield, we need to charge at our own perception of what we know to be true, blast it off and see what is there when the smoke has cleared.

In that small shala in India, a teacher shot a cannon at my practice, took apart my skills and gave me new toys to play with. I arrived, not knowing what was coming, only knowing that I didn't know anything, so I hoped to learn. My own silly Yoga-Teacher-ego was left on the stairs, together with my flip-flops. I was so tired after practice that I forgot to take it back with me. This is why a good beating is fantastic for my practice and for who I am as a person. I (as many of you reading this, maybe) make all things personal, so my mastery of what I think I am a master of becomes personal. I OWN it. Then something happens, and a quiet woman in a shala in Vagator, or a skinny man at a yoga school in Oslo, show me that I don't own anything. The practice is not mine. It is taught to us all, same for us all. I wait for the smoke to clear and I am perhaps going to see where I am at. For this to happen, I need to be taken to a place in the practice where I have no idea where I am going, and I need to be led. My head can't be up my ass. I need to trust that although I have no idea, the one leading me does. I need to be exhausted. That is when my yoga ego doesn't draw energy from anything and what I learn lands on a humble ground and actually seeps somewhat in. "Somewhat" because I am thick headed and this needs to be repeated.

I recently left an Ashtanga Yoga discussion group I was a member of, on a social networking website. I left it because ordinary people, like me, hoping to have some understanding were battling about what yoga is and what true teachings were and which teachers were worthy and which not. I left it because it gave me an urge to convince people that my opinions were the truth. I felt compelled to label people as stupid because what they thought about yoga was not what I thought it to be. This cyber home of pseudo wisdom, fanned the flames of my ego, as if I don't get enough of that from before. I learn best when I accept that I don't know much and that my teachers are my teachers and I am here to practice. The less of this attitude I have, the further from my comfort zone, I need to go. "This is so not on your repertoire" is where I need to be. More sweat and less cerebral spin-doctor-action, I hope will be my mantra for the new year.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yoga is a systematic attack to ego
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John Anderson said...

Nice informative post, thanks for sharing this.

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Ojashvi Ashtanga Yoga Training said...

Hey there, I loved your post. There is so much that I resonate with. Thank you for your fearless honesty. If you have a minute, check out my latest essay on the sustainability of modern yoga practice at I think you may find it interesting!

Ashtanga Yoga said...

thank you for sharing your journey in such lovely words. you have been helpful with your knowledge y encouraging with your word y practices. it is good to read in the post above your are feeling at least somewhat better~bless.

Ojashvi said...

Love this too. Thanks for writing. I love my vinyasa slow practice and moving as I breath. My practice is a pleasure not a ritual and I am free :) Yoga Teacher Training Rishikeh

Sandesh Saini said...

Hi, I am very impress to your post. specially for 2nd para "Everyone wants to be a guru these days. You want to be a guru, I want to be a guru. The woman on the second floor that went to a chakra balancing and primal scream seminar in forests of Sweden has something to say. So she fancies herself a guru too. " And i am agree with your blog post.

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