Ego's Gone Wild In Yoga

After opening numerous emailed newsletters from the yoga community something has to be addressed.

It’s time for us all to sit back and reflect upon what we as students and teachers are perpetuating in our beloved practice and communities. I see it more and more lately, lots of “Master” teachers, classes, workshops and “Advanced” this/that. The results that arise out of this type of marketing (let’s call it exactly what it is-marketing) is designed to attract a certain niche of students and/or keep others out, also to claim that “Master” teachers have more knowledge then others. Do they really? A teacher is only as good as what they can honestly share. I’ve been to some classes with “Master” teachers who shared a whole lot of ego - with others who shared only how to do poses and make me sweat. Let’s face it, nobody is reinventing the wheel here and a contortionist can help put your body into a shape. So what makes a master yoga teacher or advanced yogi?

After much time, practice and dedicated discipline we realize that the yoga we think we’re practicing is called Asana or rather a physical practice.  Many choose to stop here and use the practice as a physical workout. However if we move beyond this, we find that asana is one tool we use to peel back the many layers of self in order to clear blockages in the body, thus allowing our Prana to flow more freely. We learn that Asana can in many ways be a metaphor to practice living in an unbalanced life/world. We learn to be placed under pressure, to maintain our connection to self and breathe within the chaos. Here we learn to move from practitioner to the beginning stages of becoming a yogi, this is where the work begins. This is where we come face to face with our self, our fears, pain, shame and every imaginable feeling we have within. To begin accepting who we are and let go of all that our ego clings to. We learn that our practice isn’t a pose but rather the body is a manifestation of what we hold deeply inside. We learn that being physically strong and flexible is not the same as being a strong, flexible person. We learn to witness our ego and not congratulate our selves for putting our foot behind our head, or landing an arm balance because in the end it doesn’t makes us a better person and maybe just maybe, it only feeds our ego. We learn that it doesn’t make us special to do so. We eventually (and hopefully) learn and accept that this body we are so attached to is only a temporary container that carries within in it our true self.  We learn that the most challenging practice is sitting quietly with our self, to truly listen, to accept and love who we are, not what we can do with our body but perhaps what we can’t and with that we hopefully learn compassion, love, kindness and gratitude for all that we are and aren’t.  Once we discover this and connect with it, we can learn to share it and ourselves with others more freely and confidently. Only then do we learn to advance from practitioner to student of yoga.

I’ve seen students land some pretty tricky postures in their first few classes that other have been working toward for years, yet can’t fully stand on their own two feet. I’ve also seen students who have been practicing regularly for many years and never land any of the tricky postures. Does this make any one of them more or less advanced?  I know lots of teachers who have been teaching for many years, who teach part time or seasonally and others who are new teachers who have taught more classes in much less time because they do it full time all year, every year. So who is the “Master Teacher” or the one who has more experience teaching?  I’ve even seen teachers call themselves master teachers after teaching a few short years-Yikes! The bigger question is, does any of it really matter? Has marketing and self promotion gotten misleading? Yes.

Practice everyday, use the tools, learn the techniques, respect the practice and be honest with the label you put upon it. I don’t know one good teacher that would call themselves a “Master” (because they respect that they too are still a student) nor have I ever met or heard of a master student. Shri K. Pattahbi Jios, B.K.S Iyengar and the linkage of many lifelong students who’ve passed this transformational practice down to us would never call them selves “Masters” or advanced yogi’s.  This being the case, who are we to call ourselves this?

I recently heard a teachers say that a class wasn’t advanced enough for her. Perhaps she’s only putting her body into shapes because when activating all the energy of the bandha’s, squeezing into the center line, while extending up/down/out through the limbs, slowing the breath and then staying there to fully explore the subtle softening that exists in all this engagement for at least 5 full deep breaths is a whole lot of work and energy: quite frankly it’s really exhausting! I rarely make it beyond 5 breaths with all that going on… mind you I’ll stay in the shape after the full engagement ends but I’m honestly not physically strong enough to get beyond that point with breath so, technically I’m not practicing beyond that point anything other then gymnastics. My point being… if it’s not hard, you're not fully in the practice- regardless of the type of practice or the shape you put your body in. How easy or how hard a class is, is entirely up to you.

We have to be honest with ourselves and our communities first. There is too much elitist hype in yoga already. We say yoga is for everybody but then don’t want everybody in our classes if we call it "advanced or master" we tell people this excludes you who aren’t good enough to join us. We the advanced are on a higher level then you who are not advanced.  As an alternative let’s try including everybody and be accepting of all who are on the path to self discovery and guide each other on the path as students, as teachers, as a open welcoming, accepting, loving community. Isn’t that what we’re all about anyway?

Are we as teachers in the business of feeding the ego’s of both our students and/or perhaps our own? I’m not pointing fingers here, I too teach tricky postures in classes because I haven’t had the courage to tell students they aren't practicing full engagement of asana, yet... after all I want them to come to class and have fun with it. I too have moved on to those tricky postures in my personal practice to feed my own ego and give my self a good pat on the back - atta girl, aren’t I special?!? What I’ve discovered is I’m not. The only person who cared that I could do them was me and my big ego. It didn’t make me a better student of yoga, it made me better a finding short cuts to avoid doing the real work. Perhaps that counts as a skill, but it’s not practicing yoga.

One of my teachers recently said to me “we are either serving god or we want to be god”. Think about that for a moment… that’s a pretty powerful statement. He also told me that I had a lot to offer and that my practice wasn’t mine to keep, I must give it to others as it was given to me. This statement didn’t make me feel more confident, it in fact made me feel that I have a huge responsibility and humbled by its magnitude. Will I be able to do it?

-B. K. S. Iyengar"All may be able to do yoga but only one in a million is fit to be called a Yogi.”

Remember, a cup already full cannot receive more. We’re still hopefully open to learning, sharing our experiences from our journey and humbled with the understanding that we’re all students who know nothing in the greater scheme of things.

Yoga is not fun, it’s not sparkly, it’s not a party and it’s certainly not easy. It’s a very long challenging journey that will break us down, leave us in a pile of rubble to humbly rebuild and claim ourselves over and over again. If we’re lucky… we find the right guides who will be honest and point us toward our paths when we try to avoid it and a loving community to share the powerful journey with.

Happy travels my fellow practitioners - Namaste

Marlena Bruno

not a “master” teacher or advanced practitioner merely a humble servant & guide. Mantra Yoga, Danvers, MA.