I often reflect on how my yoga journey challenges me, but there is one instance that highlights how clearly ahamkara (my ego and sense of self) can be such a dominant force in my practice. It still surprises me how far I let my ahamkara take me that day. I tend to be an over-thinker; I like to research and see that I have every angle covered, any possibility considered and a plan of action formed (The funny part is this process mostly takes place in my head!). But I always thought that was simply my way of being prepared.
The summer heat might be here now, but you can click here to read about Marybeth’s roasted winter squash soup!
So, let me tell you a story.
Once upon time… a fairly new yoga teacher (me) participated in an Advanced Asana Series that dealt with challenging binds and arm balances. As part of this class, I was introduced to Vrishchikasana, or Scorpion posture. Listening carefully, taking copious notes and practicing the posture during training with the other teachers was exhilarating – exhilarating enough for me to happily go to my yoga room a few days later with the intent to practice and master this posture so I could share it with my students. Just that intention alone should have been warning enough, but no.
My thinking mind had analyzed and my ego mind had decided, so clearly, I was ready for the challenge.
I went to my mat, did some pranayama, some warm up moves, practiced the suggested prep poses… and I was off. Kind of like how the gate opens for a horse race and everyone races to the finish line. I set myself up, mat carefully placed near a wall, forearms down, elbows under shoulder, thumbs together. I lifted my knees, walked in and raised my right leg up and over my head. This is where the fun begins, I thought. I pressed off my left foot and tried to come into the posture…nope.
I kept falling out of balance and having to start again. This went on and on (for much longer than I care to admit ) without success. But my stubborn, ego-driven self kept at it, practicing and practicing for several hours. On and on I journeyed (or so I thought), but I had yet to reach my destination. Many hours later, I reluctantly stopped to cool down and had the savasana experience that only an ego-driven over-thinker can. My ahamkara replayed the practice over and over, and added a sense of failure as a teacher to the mix, all as I tried to relax and release. I got up after a while, feeling weak, inept, frustrated, and pretty angry – at myself, my mat, my body, my practice and everyone in the world that popped up effortlessly into this posture and posted about it on Instagram.
My ego mind was running at full speed and not giving me even a moment that wasn’t full of judgement. Yikes!!
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1993 and as the disease progressed, I lost sensory perception and have weakness in my right-side. I can usually navigate fine if I can see my body parts or someone gives me a gentle touch, but if I can’t see them or touch them, I don’t know where they are. I have managed this beast for a long time. I am fully aware of my limitations and am usually fine with adjusting my practice to allow for this reality.
But not this day.
Apparently my ego wanted to battle… and win! I still felt kind of frustrated and discouraged when my husband came home later. So, I asked him to watch me and see if he could help (Isn’t it interesting to notice that my ego mind was still running the race hours later?). I set up my mat and tried several more times, only succeeding when he assisted by helping my left leg follow through. When I asked him what he thought, he replied it looked to him as if I pressed off too far away so I didn’t have the leverage I needed. (You just have to love how a Construction Engineer views the world!)
I asked him to break it down for me as I attempted the posture… I’m all lined up, walked my feet in and got ready to lift my right leg up. He interrupted and said, “I think you may be a bit too far away… can you walk in a little closer?” Of course my ahamkara is grumbling (okay… screaming… I’m a teacher, I should know this!!) but I did as he suggested, took a few more steps in, lifted my right leg and when I pushed off with my left up I went! Pure joy!!
The posture just felt completely mine.
When I came down I asked him how he knew and he said, “I just looked at the picture in your book. You looked too far away and your right foot seemed too close to your head.” After hours and hours of practice, he broke it down in a few minutes using the resources I had right in front of me.
Wow, did my teacher ego get a reality check!
I then noticed I had mat burns on my forearms from over-practicing. I was so in my head I didn’t even register the physical symptoms until I came down that last time and my ego had retreated a bit (okay, a lot!).
It was an experience I needed to have and hope never to repeat.
I lost sight of, and connection to, my practice because I was completely focused on what my ahamkara wanted and not the experience. I will say it took me quite a bit of time and reflection to acknowledge the humbling awareness of this experience and allow space for growth. However, the best gift of this experience was when I was finally able to use it as a teachable moment in my classes. Now my practice is about staying in touch, noticing space and allowing it to unfold.
I still work on my stubborn ego-driven self, but lately, I am just a bit more inclined to take a breath, find a smile and let go!