Saturday, October 8, 2011

Confessions of a somewhat happy egoist

 [Image taken from here]

I just read David Garrigues' latest post about the asana practice and moving from the center. As always, David's post is very beautiful; he brings up many things with a depth of insight that I can only marvel at. I highly recommend reading it. He writes:

"In our fantasy of what we will look like and how good it will feel we overextend ourselves in our efforts to achieve what we consider to be the end goal or final pose. Our excursions take us too far away from the center where the skeletal support is, where our breath really does lead the way– where we make optimal use of our muscles and organs and where our brains are situated properly to minimize reality obscuring ego striving.... you have to be sure you are not sacrificing your body to your ego. That you are not going too far in order to compensate for unconscious feelings of unworthiness— you don’t need to use your asana practice to ‘prove’ you are good and worthy."

These last two sentences really strike a chord in me. I am one of the most egoistic people I know, and ego has often led me to many places in my practice that I would rather not be (for an example of this, see my previous post). I will definitely ponder David's words carefully here, and make a more conscious intention to move more from my center.

As many of us know, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga has often been accused of being a practice that offers the practitioner too many opportunities to over-identify with asanas and in the process, feed the practitioner's ego. I suppose there is some truth to that. I'll even go further, and venture to speculate (although I really have no statistical evidence to back this up) that Ashtanga tends to attract people with a certain self-loathing streak; people who somehow feel less than complete or adequate, and therefore feel the need to use the asana practice to "compensate for unconscious feelings of unworthiness" and in this way, "prove" that one is good and worthy. And if you think about it, these feelings of unworthiness may be what are really driving many "Type A" individuals; individuals who always have something to prove, either to themselves or to others. 

But as I said, I don't have any statistical evidence to back these claims up (what do you want me to do, conduct a poll on this? :-)), and I'm not saying that every single person who practices Ashtanga fits this psychological profile. All I'm doing, really, is speaking for myself. And I figure that if this psychological profile is true of me, then maybe, just maybe, it might also be true of at least a few other Ashtangis out there.

So, the truth is out: I am a person who uses the asana practice to compensate for unconscious feelings of unworthiness, who (over)achieves asanas because he feels the need to prove that he is good and worthy (of what? you may ask. Well, I'm not going there; this is not a psychoanalytical blog post :-)). Well... what about it? I mean, are you this super-self-evolved being who never feels the need to compensate for any feelings of unworthiness, conscious or otherwise? So you have effectively extinguished your ego, and never feel the need to prove anything to anybody anymore? If so, good for you. I'm obviously not there (yet). So what I'm going to do, I think, is to continue to strive in my asana practice. Try to land that Karandavasana and then come back up. Maybe do third series at some point. Maybe do fourth series before I leave this world. Maybe complete all six series (and then I'll finally be a perfectly evolved ego-extinguished being who has nothing to prove to anybody). But till then, I'll continue to sweat and toil in the trenches of asana practice. Of course, I'll try to be smart about it as well. You know, rest when I can (take moon days and rest days), try to breathe and move from the center.  Etc., etc. But it looks like sweating and toiling in the asana trenches will be my lot for a while. And if it's going to be my lot for a while, wouldn't it be better to toil happily, rather than berate myself day in and day out for being egoistic? So here it is: I've resolved to be a happy egoist, as far as this is possible. Maybe you will join me too? Or are you too evolved? :-)


  1. Good food for thought Nobel. Always a good reminder not to overextend oneself, but doesn't help to under-extend oneself either. That's what I like about this practice - it forces me to be fully aware of who I am, where I am, and what I am doing - and helps me carry that awareness through the rest of my day. In this way my practice helps me develop a healthy relationship with my ego, pointing out all the silly ways in which my ego holds sway over me and also opening up a pathway to gently tame the ego over time.

    I think the most important thing is to not worry about achieving postures, and to not worry about extinguishing the ego. Don't worry about anything in fact, just cultivate awareness and acceptance of who you are right now. That's the real practice, and from there all is coming (in my very humble and of course basically ego-less perspective! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing, Tom. Great insights, as always.

    "Always a good reminder not to overextend oneself, but doesn't help to under-extend oneself either."

    Very true. I am quite good at noticing when I am under-extending, but not so good at catching myself over-extending :-) But I think making a really conscious effort to pay attention to the breath and drishti is very helpful in this regard. As you say, "Don't worry about anything in fact, just cultivate awareness and acceptance of who you are right now."

    Btw, Casey is coming to Fargo this weekend. I'm very excited about meeting him and taking his workshop.

    I also look forward to seeing you soon in Portland :-)

  3. Cool Nobel, enjoy the workshop! And I look forward to your visit as well.

  4. Wow - your blog just gave me a serious dose of reality - when all I was looking for was a cute picture to include on my most recent blog post. I totally relate to what you said about using the asana practice to "compensate for unconscious feelings of unworthiness" and in this way, "prove" that one is good and worthy. Wow.

    Thanks for helping me at least realize that I feel this way, and tom's comment/advice above is appreciated.

    Here's my post, I linked to yours and quoted it as well.