Though most of us know how to correctly spell “asana,” we still have trouble keeping the “I” out of yoga poses. The “I” can get us in trouble, wanting to go faster, wanting to do a fancy pose or not wanting to listen to the body. Our yoga poses – asanas – will look and feel better if we can let go of the “I,” and they will also be closer to true, actual yoga.
Quiet the Ego
The “I” may also be thought of as ego. In the world of yoga, our ego is not always helpful. It tends to latch onto thoughts, ideas and perceptions that may or may not match reality. It’s the part of our mind that sometimes distorts our view of the world – and of ourselves – in an overly positive or negative way.
The mind and the ego are usually moving faster than the body, and if we are not careful, the ego can take us down the wrong path. It is the ego, or not paying attention, that can cause yoga injuries, trying to do more than we should. We do ourselves a favor in yoga if we teach the ego to be quiet.
Less Thinking, More Observing
Though it is difficult to quiet the mind, a first step is to become more observant. Focus on a particular action or aspect of a pose when you are practicing yoga. While you might watch with your eyes, also use your senses internally. What does it feel like as you move into a pose or try to maintain it. Where is there tension or difficulty? Where in the body is ease and freedom of movement? How does the body feel overall?
These types of observations and questions may seem subtle, esoteric or hard to grasp, but they can be quite helpful when doing yoga. With practice, they also become easier. Just as it takes our bodies time to learn yoga asanas, it takes practice for our mind to become more observant and quiet.
The Act of Witnessing
Yoga is neither simple physical exercise or an intellectual activity. If the intellect in the mind is still, if we can be observant, then yoga becomes an act of witnessing. That begins to lead us into the more challenging limbs of yoga. We begin concentration – dharana – and meditation – dhyana – by quieting the ego and the mind. If we then simply observe and witness, we become more absorbed in the asana and within the body.
This all takes practice; it cannot be rushed or forced. If that happens, then the ego has taken charge again. The ego is useful in some parts of life, but not as our yoga teacher. The quiet part of our mind, the silent observer that listens to the intelligence of the body, is our best guide in yoga.