Pain, unhappiness, criticism, and impatience are all common ills of an out-of-whack ego. The ancient yogis believed that ego, or Ahamkara, is the primary source of suffering. This Sanskrit term translates to “I-making” and refers to the function of the mind that creates our sense of self and identity. If our ahamkara is healthy and balanced, we’re able to meet all of our needs to survive, grow, and achieve our goals. If our ahamkara becomes distorted by negative thought patterns and false beliefs, it can lead to feelings of separation, pain, and suffering. Fortunately, yogis have developed and cultivated many different techniques to balance the ego and reduce much of our day-to-day mental misery.
1. Get to know yourself
The first step in overcoming ego is to see it and understand it. Yoga forces us to take a good, hard look at ourselves. Sitting on our meditation cushions or breathing deeply in our downward dogs will naturally produce states of introspection, contemplation, and self-reflection. Combining yoga and meditation techniques with journaling and philosophical study will further encourage the mind to notice the unhealthy and unhappy patterns of the ego. Studying modern psychology can also be helpful to understand and appreciate the positive functions of a healthy ego.
2. Embrace stillness. Practice silence.
Being immersed in a busy, noisy, and hectic environment will naturally increase the fight-or-flight protection function of our Ahamkara. As the stressors of our surroundings increase so does our mindset of seeing others as threats to our body and ego. The ancient yogis created the idea of a hermitage to retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life and to examine and subdue our egos. While a traditional yoga hermitage was hidden deep in the forest or high up in a mountain cave, we can create a quiet space inside our homes to embrace stillness and counteract the distractions of modern living. Spending just a few minutes of meditation every morning in a clean, quiet, and calming space can reduce stress and soften our armor against the outside world. Spending a longer and dedicated time on a yoga vacation or meditation retreat will have even more profound effects on balancing our egos.
3. Learn to move inward
The ego is born from looking outward and is kept alive by our constant obsession with everything around us. In order to weaken the ego and find that sense of oneness, turn inward. Practice closing your eyes in a particularly challenging asana flow. Ask your body to speak to you. Next time you fall out of a pose, instead of looking around the room to see if anyone noticed, focus on your body and breath.
The less we compare ourselves with everything around us, the less we worry about what other people are doing, and the more we can turn inward and look inside ourselves.
4. Go where you don’t want to go
Somewhere deep down our ego is aware of its own fragility. It is afraid of oneness for when we feel oneness, it challenges the very notion of self. Because of that, our ego will try to keep us from any practice that will bring us closer to oneness.
So stay in pigeon for a few more breaths. Add an extra five minutes to your meditation. When your brain gets overactive during savasana, return to your breath. The more you go where your ego is avoiding, the closer you will get to defeating that ego.
Buddhist and yogic philosophies both discuss the idea of oneness and the idea that our ego creates a divide between us and this sense of oneness. This divide causes deep pain and suffering. Yoga works to erode the illusion of separateness and return us to the oneness we’re all a part of.