“Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” ~~ Colin Powell
Over this past year, there have been so many articles revolving around yoga injuries. The one that most of you have probably heard about is “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), which was published last August in the New York Times.
As a yoga teacher and student, these types of articles really get to me. They give yoga an undeserved bad rap, and I believe they turn many people away from the practice of yoga unnecessarily. Can yoga cause injury? Sure it can. But there are a variety of reasons why, one of which is letting your ego get in the way.
When we let our ambition get in the way, it can be easy to ignore the signs that we’re overdoing something. Some of us decide to achieve a particular pose, and then we do everything possible to make it happen, even if we end up hurting ourselves in the process.
I know I sometimes sound like a broken recorder to my students, but I stress how important it is in each and every class to pay attention to your body, mind and breath during your practice. If your mind is all over the place and you’re unable to focus on what you’re doing, then that’s a sign you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing at that particular time. If you’re holding your breath or gasping for air, that’s a sign as well. And so is pain, numbness or tingling in the body. Is ignoring these signs worth it?
Ego is defined as the Self. Too much ego equates to being conceited. Too little equates to a lack of self-esteem. In yoga, it’s essential to find that balance with our ego, that point where we feel like we’re progressing and advancing in our practice, but at the correct pace.
The correct pace for you may be completely different than the one for the person on the next mat. This is why it’s so important not to compare yourself to the others in class. You have no idea if the people around you are there for the same reasons as you, what their practice is like outside of class, or what their physical limitations may be. When you box yourself in to achieving a pose by a particular date, having to look a specific way in a pose, or having to hold a pose for a particular amount of time, then you run the risk of injuring yourself if you ignore the signs that you’re overdoing it.
As a teacher, I hope I am properly encouraging all of my students to listen to these signs and pay attention. Your yoga practice should be something you can do for the rest of your life. It’s supposed to help you, not harm you. It is an experience that can change each time we get on the mat. This is why I begin each class with a few minutes of stillness…time in which we can focus on clearing the mind of all the “stuff” that gets in the way of being present, and to get in touch with how our breath is flowing and how our bodies are feeling.
As a student, it used to be hard for me at times to follow my own advice. When I would look around the room and notice that I seemed to be the ONLY one having trouble with a pose, I would think to myself, “Why can’t I do that?”, or “No one will want me to teach them when they realize I can’t even do that pose myself.” I was letting my ego get in the way — quite frequently I might add. Several times, I considered not teaching anymore because of the sheer number of poses my own body simply can’t do.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to let go of that mentality over the past year. I now realize that whatever my body is able to do is what it is supposed to be doing. I joked around in class last week about being able to do Lolasana (Pendant Pose), and how I was going to eventually be able to do this pose. I hope my students realized the true meaning of what I was saying. I definitely WILL be able to achieve Lolasana someday. It just may not be the “picture perfect” version that you see in all the yoga magazines. But it will be the perfect version for my body, whatever that ends up being.
So, whether you’re one of my students or not, make sure you listen to your mind, body and breath every single time you get on mat. Check your ego at the door, and step into the present moment. Let it be a journey, not a destination…see where your practice takes you.