“We don’t use our bodies to get into these poses. We use these poses to get into our bodies.” -Sarah Powers
One of the primary goals of yoga is to quiet the dominating ego (asmita). The ego is the lowercase self that we often falsely identify with (“I am a teacher. I am a man. I am absent minded.”) However, it is only a reflection of the true, capital SELF (purusha). The ego is a reflection tainted with smudges of emotion, false knowledge, and fears. Yoga helps us clean this lens, so as to come in touch with the true, unchanging SELF.
Despite it’s effectiveness as an ego eliminator, a yoga asana practice can also be extremely dangerous grounds for allowing the ego to dominate the mind and body. We all want to gain the “final expression of the pose” so as to gain the ultimate benefits. In yoga classes we see others around us beautifully executing poses that we then stretch and strain to imitate. We don’t want to be the “beginner holding others back.” However, with this goal oriented and comparative practice one will never begin to see the true benefits of yoga. Instead, one’s ego might only expand and dominate to the point of bodily injury.
The ego is a tremendously powerful thing. It is used by competitive athletes to push their body to extraordinary lengths. However, it is also powerful enough to push the body to injury and severe fatigue. (Kobe Bryant anyone…) This because the ego is self-serving. It does not concern itself with the connection between the mind, body and spirt; only itself.
Yoga can be a healing, unifying, purifying practice that will tame the ego and provide powerfully positive results in your mind, body and spirit. However, “with great power comes great responsibility.” We can just as easily hurt ourselves as heal ourselves in this practice. It all depends on the ego.
Read this excellent article in the NY Times magazine on the dangers of yoga. Let it encourage you to honor your body over the poses; the interior above the exterior. Both are to be treated with respect.
How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body by William J. Brod (New York Times Magazine)