This is a Guest Muse by George Costakis.
Preventing my yoga practice from becoming increasingly focused on my physical body or my ability to do poses is a struggle. If there is a pose I can’t do I want to do it. If there is a pose that makes my abs look better or my chest bigger I do more of them. Staying so driven towards the physical prevents me from addressing the ego. In fact, it feeds the ego.
Early on in my yoga path I became enamored with going to more and more yoga classes at increasingly more difficult levels. Initially I started practicing yoga to feel better and improve my meditation practice but it was turning into something competitive and ego driven.
Yoga should free you from attachments not reinforce an attachment to the body which in turn reinforces an attachment to the ego. It’s easy to lose sight of this. I knew I had to do something about it before I became a washed up Yogi with no chance of enlightenment.
I made up rules to keep myself in line. The first rule is that I am not to look in the mirror once I have determined my alignment is correct. Looking in the mirror moves my focus away from my practice and onto my hair, or my clothes, or my butt. One time in class I kept marveling at how muscular my thighs looked in Virabhadrasana II. I should not be focusing on this, even though it happens to be true.
Secondly, I am not allowed to look around the room at other students unless I need clarification on how to do an asana. By looking around I start judging other students or comparing myself to them. Thoughts enter my head such as, “The tall woman in front of me can take the full bind. Why can’t I? “, or “The guy next to me needs to lose weight.” There seems to be no end to my mental commentary. Keeping my eyes off other students is a way to put a stop to this, pronto!
My final rule is to follow the instructor. That might seem obvious so let me elaborate. In some classes I want to take a variation of a pose because I think the instructor is wrong or because I was taught the pose differently. There’s the ego. I’m right, you’re wrong, my way is better.
Now, I do give myself a little bit of leeway with this rule. If I’m asked to do something that I think will cause an injury I won’t do it. If there is a variation that I know the instructors let’s us do I might do that variation. But, if the instructor says to grab the inside of my foot in Natarajasana (dancer’s pose) even though I was taught to always grab the outside of my foot I will follow the instructor’s lead. This takes my ego out of the equation.
When doing asana practice, I stay mindful of practicing without the ego, practicing without judgment and practicing without attachment. It’s difficult. Frequently I have to remind myself that Yoga is not a work out, it is a practice that leads towards awakening. If my mind strays, I first check my alignment, then I engage the locks and finally I return to my breath.
No matter how often I practice Yoga, though, eventually my body will die. If I would just stop attaching to it I wouldn’t have to follow a bunch of stupid rules.