Yoga as an ideology is all about rejecting the ego. The yogic view is that by rejecting the ego, you eventually come to the realization that everything is one, (in fact, “yoga” means “oneness”), and in so doing, you reach the complete cessation of thought.
I won’t lie to you, the complete cessation of thought sounds AWESOME. You mean I don’t have to worry about bills, relationships, making sure to call my mom? I just think that’s a little impractical for living in the 21st century. Also, that isn’t why I practice or enjoy yoga. The main reason that I do yoga is for the workout involved, because I like the result, aesthetically and athletically. My take on yoga angers a lot of people, because I’m basically taking their yoga, this pure, 5,000-year-old practice, and bastardizing it to serve my own physical needs. If that’s what I’m being accused of, I’m completely guilty. I’m taking the physical postures of yoga, which are the first of many stages in reaching a state of oneness with the universe, and turning it into a way to look really, really, really, really, really ripped. (Look at me, embracing the ego.)
Enter the embrace of the ego. (Alliteration, anybody?) Because of my goals with yoga, the end goal is achieving maximum physical performance, and the best way to motivate yourself to perform your best (and beyond) is to present yourself with an adversary. The presence of an adversary (competition) pushes you to do better than would normally do if you were on your own. That’s why working out in a group or in a competition is so much more difficult than working out by yourself. If you want it to be harder, EMBRACE YOUR EGO. When you have your pride on the line, you are much less likely to give up. Now, it isn’t a question of whether or not you can continue to push yourself, it’s a question of whether or not you are going to let somebody push themselves more than you. Are you going to let yourself be beat? Are you going to let somebody hold the pose longer than you? Are you going to let somebody do “better” than you in a pose? When you start thinking about your yoga practice in these terms, that’s when you really start to see results. Contentment in your position does not lead to substantial progress.
So how do you go about doing this intelligently? You have to use common sense. If you are new to yoga, have 20% body fat, and have not worked out in the last month, don’t go into a yoga studio, size up the competition, and choose to emulate the guy with 8% body fat that does yoga everyday and is on a first-name basis with all the yoga teachers. Choose somebody with the same body type as you. Choose somebody with similar experience. I’ll give you an example from my own personal life. I usually don’t see guys built like me doing yoga, and when I do, they don’t have my balance or flexibility. So when I see a guy who is built like me and can rock a Crow Pose or Warrior 3 as well as I can, I go up to them and introduce myself. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a guy who was finishing up his teacher’s training who was a little bigger than me, and killing it in a vinyasa session a few spaces away. We ended up talking afterwards, and I found out that he was on the rugby team. I said, “Cool, I play lacrosse. Let’s hang out and do some yoga sometime.” Finally, this week, we got together in the same class. We set up our mats next to each other, and from that instant on, even though we both were on good terms, we knew we were competing. This wasn’t about letting go of our egos. This was the exact opposite. We were putting our egos on the line. We were EMBRACING our egos because one of us had to prove our superiority over the other. Did we find out? Not really. Did we have a better session because of it? Hell yes. 3 days later, I’m still sore. (This coming from the guy who does yoga 2 – 5 hours a day.)
So, if you really want to push yourself, if you really want to get BETTER and see physical results, EMBRACE your ego. Put your pride on the line. Compare yourself to others, look at somebody, and say to yourself, “I want to be as good as THAT guy.” Not having a goal in mind is like driving without a map. Yeah, you’ll get somewhere, but wouldn’t you rather have a specific destination in mind?
EMBRACE. THE. EGO.