Ego vs. starting over with Ashtanga


I suspect everything we do and deal with in life — maybe beyond? — comes down to handling our ego. Ego here meaning our wound-up sense of self, of I vs. you. Not exactly earth-shattering, but still an implicit place to establish a common degree of understanding.

I say everything in life, but let’s just keep this to asana practice, shall we?

Ego is what keeps us from advancing. Ego is what makes us conceive of the idea of advancement.

Ego is what needs to be satisfied when something else — something that doesn’t feed that sense of self — would better serve us (our true self?). Ego wants that next pose.

Ego is what make me think binding in Marichyasana A and C is best. Or even that I should have my hand on the ground in Utthita Parshvakonasana.

There. I said it. That’s fundamentally what I face on the mat.

But, no, I’m not about the rewind the hate toward Ashtanga theme. It makes for good blogging — honestly, I’d rather thousands of people read about helping the people affected by the floods in northern India than our pain posts — and some decent discussion, plus it offers some opportunities for snide remarks (always welcomed by the way!).

Instead I’m just going to tell you what my next month is going to be on the mat. If — and this is a huge if — I can keep my ego from taking over.

On Sunday, Bobbie led me through a half-primary practice. And I can say that each and every pose featured some serious modification. No grabbing of what everyone is told to grab. No reaching for toes, no head toward floor. No attempting to make it look like what I’m doing resembles Ashtanga.

Things just way too embarrassing to attempt in a shala, in front of people. Things just way too embarrassing to attempt in front of myself.

And so I haven’t. Because my ego can’t take having my hands at my knees instead of my feet. It can’t take the ridiculousness of still being such a beginner after so many years.

Bobbie gave me a lot of instruction, too much to really retain. The instruction of weeks, if not months.

But I know fundamentally what I should be doing. I’ve always known, as I’ve taken workshops, been to the Confluences, practice day in, day out. Back straight, shoulders not hunched forward or down in an attempt to look like I’m nearer my knees than I am. Legs, for that matter, straight. Bandhas engaged, ribs moving with the breath (call that breath what you will).

No cheating, in other words.

I won’t remember exactly how she suggested my shoulders should be in Utthita Parshvakonasana. I know that rather than feeding my ego by stretching my higher arm out and up, I need to think about what the pose is about. That twist and shift of the body.

What’s the purpose of the pose needs to outweigh what my ego wants my body to look like — that my ego wants my body to look something like everyone else in the pose.

And I promised I would try to continue it for a month to see what happens. To see if some things (hamstrings!) loosen up, free up, release.

It’s all very body focused, with the intent of allowing for some sort of mind focus later.

It’s all a beginning again, something my ego doesn’t want to do.

We’ll see if my ego wins again.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

13 thoughts on “Ego vs. starting over with Ashtanga”

  1. It sounds very much like what i’ve been doing. I can round my back and put my hands flat on the floor straining my lower back or i can put my hands on my shins and keep the old back straight. I like going for it but I know when I employ focused technique I don’t get as far into poses but I know it is doing it’s job on me more efficiently. I just took a workshop with Chuck Miller and what you are talking about is exactly what the whole workshop was about, being a beginner again. Basically Chuck said carry samastitihi through each posture bring yourself back to it. I’ve noticed you can do this throughout the day also sitting, standing, doing the dishes, transferring my daughter from bed to wheelchair, everything. There is a great video I recently purchased which shows Mark Darby going through primary series like a pro and his wife Nicole doing primary with variations side by side. I highly recommend this dvd it’s helping me immensely reminding me how my hands, hips, feet everything should be placed in every posture. LIke you i’m hoping working with this dvd and having them drill technique into my head it’s going to open me up more. You can buy the dvd here the other cool things with this dvd is there is no music just instructions being called out so it’s like a led class but total focus on technique.

  2. Fundamentals are the key to success in any activity more so in an intense activity like Ashtanga Vinyasa . Most people in an eagerness to advance in the series forget the basics and have to be reminded of the same after 3-4 years of practice when they encounter a seasoned teacher .

  3. Thank you for sharing your deep thoughts & feelings about your experiences with Ashtanga & the Ego. I have to ask, if it doesn’t feel good, why do you do it?

    1. “Good” can mean a lot of different things at different points in time. Ashtanga is not a kumbayah big hug-fest. It is a confrontation with the very real, inescapable world. Sometimes that feels good but many times it doesn’t.

      1. That seems about right. (I think my response by now would be pretty obvious: I don’t think it should feel good.) And I think about the Tim Miller description of Ashtanga as “the yoga of no.” I would think among those “nos” is that it should feel good.


  4. Very cool that you are working together to break down your practice to the fundamentals. It’s invaluable, and something most of us could seriously benefit from. I know this kind of intense one-on-one focus is supposed to be built into the traditional system, but very often, because of numbers of people, it would seem to be lacking.

  5. This is exactly why I love this practice… the absolute daily spotlight of ego. Just when I think I’m getting somewhere, the next, I’m not even close. Just the other day I told myself “it’s really ok to spend the rest of your days working on HALF the primary series.” I still feel better than I ever have, limitations and all.

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