By: Monica Ott
“After the demands of the ego and its greed surrendered, the struggle for fulfillment of personal desires lessens; life takes on a new zest like a breath of fresh air.” -Swami Sivananda Radha
The second klesha (the afflictions of the mind) is the veil of ‘Asmita’ (ego). When you hear the word ‘ego,’ oftentimes you think of someone who is arrogant with an inflated perception of themselves. While that is part of it, it is only one aspect of what the ego represents. In yogic philosophy (see II.6 of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), the ego is essentially everything that blinds us from seeing our True ‘Self.’ This includes the false perception of seeing the mind and body as the True Self. The problem with identifying ourselves this way is that the mind and body are constantly changing, whereas the True Self (the purusha) remains constant. The labels that we create for ourselves are just a reflection of what the mind perceives. For example, think about when you meet someone new for the first time.
Usually one of the first questions exchanged is: ‘What do you do?’ We will answer with what our job title is, but this is just a label that we use to define ourselves. These labels are the ego. The true ‘Monica’ is not the yoga teacher, the wife, the musician, the cat-lover, nor the business owner. The true ‘Monica’ is what lies underneath and beyond the physical realm; beyond the body and beyond the mind. So, how do we strip away the ego and truly become the ‘Seer?’
The practice of yoga, especially meditation helps to bring us closer to the Self. The difficulty lies within keeping it a consistent practice, but its simplistic nature will reveal itself over time. Firstly, we have to become comfortable with the practice of going inward and having the desire to see ourselves, to see the truth. This is where the work comes in because the ego will try to make excuses such as: ‘I’m not good enough,’ or ‘I don’t need to do this, or I already know myself,’ or ‘I’m not the type of person who can meditate.’ You may notice similar thoughts that come up in your asana practice as well. How many times do we tell ourselves that we can’t do something before we even try? Have you noticed yourself or someone else push their body past its limits to the point of injury? These are all aspects of the ego. When we practice meditation, the thoughts (although some may linger) start to empty out and we can begin to see the vast lake of the Cosmic mind.* This all pervading Cosmic mind can reflect the soul, what lies deep within the heart, and our relationship to the universe. When we get a glimpse of this, duality no longer exists, the unity of all beings is felt, and “the Divine finds at last an unobstructed channel.”**
“The superior method of soul living frees the yogi who, shorn of his ego-prison, tastes the deep air of omnipresence.” -Yogananda
Practice: 15-30 minute daily silent meditation: Sit in a comfortable position and focus on the third eye (brow space). Focus on the images that appear whether it’s darkness, light patterns, colors, etc. Watch the thoughts that come into the mind (notice these thoughts as part of the ego). Slowly breathe them away and continue to focus. It will get easier after 30 days.
Ego Eradicator pranayama: Sit with a straight spine in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Raise your arms overhead spread slightly to the sides creating a sixty degree angle. Keep your elbows straight. If you imagine your heart as the center of a circle then your arms should be pointing to 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. Curl your fingers so that the fingertips touch the mounds on the palms at the base of each finger. The thumbs should extend out away from the hands, and should point straight up towards the sky. Perform Breath of Fire (equal vigorous inhalations and exhalations in and out of the nose) for 1-3 minutes. To finish, take one long breath and raise your arms up straight overhead. Touch your thumb tips lightly together. Hold that breath and hold your arms straight up for as long as you feel comfortable. Then when you are ready, spread your fingers wide, and very slowly let the breath release out through your nose as you slowly lower your arms.
*Chapter 9, pg. 80 ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramhansa Yogananda
**Chapter 12, pg. 122 ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’