E-RYT 500, yoga instructor for children and adults

Posts tagged ‘ego’

Hashtag Savasanuary

It started as a joke, as good ideas often do. On a random Facebook thread, my good friend and fellow yoga teacher Shana Stein of Operation Yoga said, “I really want to nail my savasana this year.” She was making a tongue in cheek reference to all the yoga challenges, progress pics, and advanced asanas that appear all over social media. Now, I’m not saying these are all bad.  I’ve participated in some really fun Instagram challenges with gracious hosts who offer modifications and encouragement to all yogis. I also see that sometimes the focus on the image overly emphasizes “getting the pose,” yet misses getting the yoga. Yoga is about union, connection, calming the mind, and overcoming the ego. There is a reason for asana, and postures are an important part of the yoga path for many, including myself. Asana can also be a double edged sword. Postures can trigger the ego, telling us we aren’t as good as another yogi because our backbend isn’t as deep, or that we’re better than someone else whose crow isn’t flying quite as high as ours. The important work is what we do with these thoughts, how we face our fears and challenge our ego based beliefs. When I teach kids I often say, “Savasana is the hardest pose in yoga.” Although it may be easy for the body, simply lying down, it’s the mind that can struggle to find the “steadiness and comfort” that Patanjali recommends for a successful asana. So back to Shana’s comment. I loved it. I ran with it. And so #savasanuary was born.

Jump in anytime for this “unchallenge.” Just take a pic of yourself in savasana, post it on the social media platform of your choice, and tag #savasanuary. No hosts, no sponsors, no pressure. The prize is peace! Give yourself the gift of a few moments of rest each day and share, if you’re so inclined, to encourage others to do the same. Do it every day or any day, whatever works for you. Enjoy!

savasana

“How I Learned to Stop Shoulding Myself” on elephant journal

“Our words are a reinforcement of our thoughts and our thoughts influence our emotions, both of which determine our actions, the results of which create more thoughts and feelings.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, thoughts, words and actions form a triangle.

Any one of these points of the triangle can influence any one of the others.

Purposefully changing any of these areas changes any one of the others . . .”

Continue reading on elephant journal.

Lucky Elephant Journal

Yesterday in my kids class, we read a story about a lucky elephant. Then we made our own out of styrofoam balls, toothpicks and pipe cleaners. Well, looks like mine really did bring me luck. I’m excited and grateful to share that a new essay of mine has been published on elephant journal! Click below to read the article.

Love Means Never Having to Say Sorry.

I am especially grateful to Erina Yamamoto, a fellow yoga teacher who was also recently published online. Seeing her essay on the web inspired me to do it too! Here’s a link to her amazing essay:

Surrendering to Death.

Jaya Ganesha!

The Five Poisons of Prejudice

Using the five kleshas to understand and eliminate prejudice.

In yoga philosophy, the kleshas are five poisons or impurities of the mind that are false and prevent us from attaining liberation. The kleshas are ignorance, ego, likes, dislikes and fear. By understanding these mental tendencies we can better understand what creates prejudice and thus reduce those qualities in ourselves. Becoming aware of our own tendencies is the first step in shifting towards more loving thoughts, words and actions. At the same time, by seeing how these kleshas affect all of us we can practice compassion for those who continue to discriminate against others based on external factors such as race, age, ability, religion, sex, gender identity/expression or sexual orientation.

The first klesha is ignorance. Ignorance literally means a lack of knowledge or information. When we don’t have awareness of ourselves or knowledge of others, we don’t have all the information and can’t make the best choices. Often prejudices derive from a lack of understanding or a misunderstanding of someone who we perceive as being different from us. Different cultures, races, ethnicities or nationalities have different standards and practices based on their unique experiences and histories. For instance, a fellow yoga teacher shared photos of insects being sold as food. My first reaction was to think, “Eww, gross,” since bugs are typically thought of as dirty and disgusting in America. However, I also know that in much of the world bugs and grubs are an abundant and valuable protein source and are eaten regularly. Based on a lack of information, we may unfairly judge a person as being primitive or disgusting, when in reality it is our own ignorance of their culture that creates the prejudice in our minds. By always keeping an open mind and striving to learn more than our limited worldview, we can help to reduce our own ignorance.

The second klesha is ego. Here the term is used not as meaning synonymous with narcissism or selfishness. Instead it is the “I” that we relate to as individuals. We all have it, and we all need it to some extent. The problem comes when we let ego take over and influence us. Ego tells us we are what we have, what we do, and what people think of us. It tries to convince us that we are separate from others and from the Divine. Ego emphasizes the differences between us rather than the similarities. When we get caught up in ego, we start to find things that make us feel like we are better than, or worse than, others. Stereotypes come from the ego’s attempt to categorize and thus further separate people. Some stereotypes make us feel better than other people, as in the example above about eating insects. Others make us feel we are worse than others. For example a young girl may think she can’t pursue a career in the STEM (science, techonology, engineering and math) disciplines because of messages from her family, society, or the media that tell her girls aren’t good at math. Both are equally insidious because they further the separation between us and our fellow human beings. Ego often bristles and says, “How dare you?” implying entitlement often based on the perception that our “group,” whether it be that of race, religion, orientation, etc., is better than another group. In the famous “blue-eyed, brown-eyed” experiment of 1968, teacher Jane Elliott allowed her students to experience a taste of what it is like to be discriminated against based on an arbitrary external factor, in this case by the color of their eyes. One day she told the class of third graders that blue-eyed people were better than brown-eyed people. She subtly enforced this “eye-ism” all day by commenting when a blue-eyed child did something good or when a brown-eyed child did something bad. The next day she reversed the status of the eye colors. The children caught on and participated in the discrimination alarmingly quickly. Some people criticized her, and in one famous letter a member of the public protested by saying, “How dare you try this cruel experiment out on white children.” Clearly they missed the lesson of the experiment, and were speaking directly from their ego.

The next two kleshas are often discussed together, as they are two sides of the same coin. Likes and dislikes cause us to try to obtain or avoid things, experiences, or people. We don’t have to give up the things we like or accept the things we don’t, but we must become aware of our attachments and aversions and recognize their influence on us. These two kleshas can cause an inability to understand and therefore empathize with someone whose likes and dislikes are different from our own. Notice the subtle difference in the following statements: “I dislike broccoli,” compared to, “Broccoli is gross.” It is easy to begin to label things as good or bad based on whether we like or dislike them, and in turn label another person as good or bad depending on whether they share our opinion. However we each have different tastes and preferences, and as long as your choices aren’t hurting someone else, then it is your prerogative. In my experience I have at times looked down on forms of yoga that weren’t my preferred practice. I bought into stereotypes and thought I knew what “real Yoga” was. I equated my “likes” with good and my “dislikes” with bad. In reality, each individual has different preferences and those likes and dislikes don’t change the fact that they are fellow humans with the same Light inside them as me. A common example of prejudice stemming from likes and dislikes is the issue of sexual orientation. A heterosexual male may think kissing another man is unappealing, and he is entitled to his preference. However when he says that two men kissing is gross, and that gay men are gross for doing it, he is then projecting his dislike onto another and judging them based on that, which is prejudice.

Finally, the fifth klesha is fear. Fear is the opposite of love, and when we act from a place of fear we crowd out love. Often people experience fear of the unknown or unfamiliar. Ignorance of the other person’s situation can lead to fear of them, which prevents us from acting with love. Instead we act from our fear and choose to discriminate against them. Even if we don’t fear the other person, we may experience fear of being ridiculed or rejected for standing up for a person or group of people instead of going along with the discrimination. As Edmund Burke famously said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Deciding not to support someone who is being discriminated against, choosing to be silent in the presence of injustice, can be just as detrimental as participating in the act. There were times in my past when I was afraid to speak up when someone was being discriminated against. I have also walked through my fear at times and spoke the Truth with Love. As with all the kleshas, it is an ongoing challenge to recognize and overcome it.

Acceptance that we have a problem is the first step towards healing. By examining our minds through the context of the kleshas, we can see where we have gone wrong and how we can better ourselves. Although ignorance, ego, likes, dislikes, and fear are a part each of us, we can work towards letting go of these illusions and instead embrace the truth of love, acceptance, and compassion for all.

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

The street I drive down daily to enter my neighborhood is always lined with randomly parked cars. The street isn’t very wide and if cars are parked on both sides, only one car can fit through. Many stray dogs and cats wander the area, as well as plenty of squirrels and birds. I call this straightaway “the gauntlet” because it is always a challenge to navigate around the cars, play chicken with the oncoming traffic, and dodge various wildlife. Recently as I was driving through the gauntlet, eager to get home after a long day, I noticed a squirrel up ahead crossing the street. I slowed down a bit but it looked like the squirrel would make it across well before I got to it. I was just about to drive past the little rodent when it suddenly froze, then turned and darted back into the street, right into the path of my car! It’s a miracle that I didn’t hit it, but I didn’t feel a bump or see it behind me so I assume the squirrel slipped between the wheels and made it back to the other side. As I was telling Charlie about this incident recently, a revelation hit me. I heard myself saying, “If he wouldn’t have doubted himself and gotten scared, he would have made it in plenty of time. But because he gave up and turned around, he almost got himself killed!” I realized then that I am that squirrel. You are also that squirrel. We all are, at times. And I bet God looks at us the same way I looked at it, thinking, “Go on little being, you’re so close! Believe in yourself, trust you are on the right path, and keep going!”
Fear and doubt are tricks of the ego. It is easy to forget that the ego works in many different ways. Ego isn’t just thinking you are better than others, it’s also thinking you are worse. Ego tells us that we are separate and different, that we must compete to survive, and that our worth is based on our material success. Any thoughts that we use to attack ourselves or others come from ego. We have gotten so familiar with the voice of ego that we mistake it for our own. Meanwhile, the subtle voice of spirit gets drowned out amidst the blaring noise of advertising, social pressure, and cultural expectations. For instance, when you think of Charles Darwin, what is your first association? Survival of the fittest probably comes to mind, the idea that we must fight against others for resources. However, as I learned from the documentary “I Am,” that was only a small part of his overall findings. The most important aspect of nature that Darwin emphasized repeatedly was cooperation. This idea was played down and the idea of competition was reinforced by other members of popular culture. And that is the legacy that has been passed down to us.
We constantly receive messages from advertising that we need something outside of ourselves to make us complete. The media tells us that we aren’t good enough the way we are, that we must have a product to make us look younger, a car to make us look richer, a pill to make us look happier. We are told to be afraid of strangers, of those who look, act, talk, and pray differently than ourselves. We are told to hurry, act now, for a limited time only, or we will miss out. It makes sense then that we would doubt our own power, downplay our own light. We get the idea to do something great, to create, explore, take a chance. We may even begin to take the steps to get there. We quit the miserable job, we begin writing the novel, we start up a conversation with the person we are interested in. As the Bhagavad Gita tells us, as soon as we set out on our true path, the ego begins blaring its lies at us. We fear financial security because “everyone knows” you have to work hard and compete to earn a higher salary and buy more stuff. We doubt our creativity because “everyone knows” it’s hard to get a book published and we’ll never make money doing that. We trail off and walk away because “everyone knows” relationships never work out and they are out of our league anyway. We freeze, we give up, we turn around. Then when we barely escape being hurt, knocked down, or run over, we think to ourselves, “See, that’s what always happens. The world is a dangerous place. Good thing I turned around.” And ego reinforces those false beliefs. But in reality if we would have just kept going, just believed in ourselves for a little bit longer, we would have made it to our goal.
My dog Joey is a 12 pound, 13 year old, blind miniature schnauzer with a heart murmur and arthritis. She doesn’t let any of this slow her down. She plays with bigger dogs, runs free in the yard, barks at “intruders” (aka our guests), guards the house, and when we walk I have to pull back her leash to keep her from running into things because she just goes for it. Her favorite toy is almost as big as she is. I originally bought it while fostering a much larger dog, a lab mix. But Joey doesn’t know her limitations, so for her they don’t exist. We have to unlearn all the false fear and doubt of the ego and learn to trust in the guidance of our inner spirit, our inner guru.
Why did the chicken cross the road? Because no one ever told her she couldn’t.

Money Can’t Buy Me Love

“Aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah.” Patanjali, Chapter 2 Sutra 39

In his yoga sutras, Patanjali writes, “When non-acquisitiveness is established, an understanding of the purpose of birth is gained.” Aparigraha, non-acquisitiveness or non-attachment, is the final of the five yamas that form the foundation of the practice of yoga. In our modern society, in the West and in America in particular, much emphasis is placed on what you have. Advertisements constantly bombard us with messages about “newer, better, must have” products. Many people measure success with how much money they make, the type of car they drive, where they live, their clothes, toys, vacations, in short, their possessions. Wayne Dyer teaches that ego is “Edging God Out” and that ego tells us we are what we do and what we have. We get so caught up in making and spending money that we forget to enjoy life. Even thousands of years ago the yogis knew humans were subject to this flaw. By letting go of the material world, we can instead focus on our spiritual path. The purpose of birth that Patanjali refers to can be thought of as our path, our dharma, or our destiny.
My partner, Charlie, and I have spent the last year cutting back and paring down in many ways. At first it was out of necessity, due to financial issues. But once we saw how our lives began to change because of it, we became willing participants in living a more minimalist lifestyle. The first major change we made was cancelling our cable television. Before that I thought that commercials didn’t affect me that much. I knew I watched them but I thought I was too smart and aware to let them influence me. I was very wrong. Even if the commercial didn’t succeed in getting me to buy the product, it still seeped into my consciousness. After being without cable for about six months Charlie and I both felt less desire for things. We felt lighter, and we lost that constant nagging feeling that we needed something more, something better. We began to realize that we already had almost everything that we needed. There are only a few items we still want to obtain, and even these we see not as necessities but as things that would be nice to have. We are now able to get by on much less yet still feel satisfied.
We also began to give things away. Little things, like extra clothes, books or just anything that we had been holding onto that we no longer used. And as we did this two things happened: one, the universe began to put people in our path who needed the very things we were giving away; and two, we began to receive the very things that we needed from others. When we let go of attachment to specific possessions, it created room for a natural flow to establish itself. It is recommended in many traditions, like feng shui, to clear out old clutter in order to create space for new things to flow into your life.
Finally, we both at different times in our lives gave up a lucrative career in a field we were unhappy with in order to follow our hearts and do what we were passionate about. When you let go of the need to buy and have lots of material things, it allows you to explore your true passions and possibly make less money to do something you love. I am grateful that I have been able to do this, as not everyone has the support it takes follow their dreams. However, I do think more people could if they were able to practice non-attachment and simplify their lives. It isn’t always easy and there have been times when we struggled, but it has been worth it. For us, giving up some material pleasures has freed us up to follow our true path, and we have found so much more fulfillment and happiness because of it.

And That’s What We Call Boundaries

I recently read a quote saying a true friend loves you for who you are, no matter what. It made me think about acceptance and what that entails in relationships. Does a true friend simply let you be and do whatever you want, regardless of whether it is beneficial to you and others? Or does a true friend push you, challenge you to grow, inspire you to be your best self, and hold you to your highest potential? As a friend, partner, or family member, can you do both? And who decides what is best?
I have recently had to take a long hard look at my own ego in the context of several personal relationships. I tend to see potential in others, to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are capable of being their best self. And as a result I tend to enter into relationships with expectations. I expect the other person to be on the same path as me, to be striving for the same things. And as Buddha taught us, with expectation (another word for desire) comes suffering. I try to, as a friend put it, “gently shove” people in the direction that I feel is best, instead of allowing them to walk their own path. I come to the relationship with the best intentions, and we all know where those lead. I try to help but my help is not always wanted or needed.
On the other hand, I do feel it is our responsibility as friends and more broadly as fellow human beings to hold one another to certain standards. To encourage kindness, compassion, respect, and acceptance towards others. When I see these things being violated, I do step up and express my feelings. But I still have to realize that that is where my contribution ends, unless the other person asks for my help. As Ram Das said, if I have a problem with someone, that’s my problem. If someone has a problem with me, that’s their problem. It is when we expect others to fix our problems or we try to fix theirs that we get in trouble.
Once I have established my beliefs and the other person has established theirs, it is then my choice to continue the relationship. I have the right to set boundaries if necessary to preserve my well being. If the other person doesn’t respect my boundaries or if I don’t think I can be my best self and honor who I truly am while in relationship with them, I can end or reduce contact with that person. If I maintain the relationship, I must accept that the other person is the way they are. And they in turn must respect me. In certain cases there may be exceptions, as there are to every rule, but most of the time when I examine my motives it is my ego and not necessarily my spirit that wants to change someone else. In my teacher training last weekend I was given this wonderful gift during our swadhyaya, or self study, session: If you hear yourself thinking or saying, “How dare you…” check your ego. Whether it is a thought or statement directed at yourself or someone else, the ego is probably behind it. This is not to say that you shouldn’t stand up for yourself or let others treat you badly. However, when we are motivated my strong emotion coming from ego, things usually don’t go well. If we can step back from the situation, examine our part in it, see where the ego has been triggered, ask ourselves what part fear is playing, and then move forward with love, we will have much more success.

 

 

AstroSync

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OPERATION YOGA

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