Too Much Ego Can Stunt Your Growth

featuredAshtanga yoga deserves its reputation for being physically demanding. “Intro to Ashtanga” classes that cover about 40-60% of the Primary Series are the most difficult Level One classes out there.

The first major hurdle (oft dreaded poses that take years to master) is Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (see pic.)

If students can’t fully extend their top leg, they can hold their shinbone instead of the foot (see bottom pic) or just keep the leg bent. No big deal, right? If you can’t do it like the woman in Yoga Journal magazine, what difference does it make? You do your best, then let it go. (Unless you’re getting sponsored by a clothing company and posting on Instagram. Then the rules of yoga philosophy do not apply.) It might take someone four years (or ten, or perhaps it will never happen) to be able to straighten both legs in this pose. If you can’t be happy without doing a “perfect” pose, you’re in for a miserable year decade life.

bentkneeOne Monday night I subbed Intro to Ashtanga at my favorite studio. A student rolled up his mat and walked out as soon as we finished Side One of this pose. I could see through the glass door to the lobby that he stayed there for about 20 minutes talking to my friend at the front desk. I thought she’d convince him to stay and he’d walk in quietly and unroll his mat. But he just left! THAT’s how hard this pose and THAT’s how much our egos can get in the way of our practice. The pose would’ve been over in another 45 seconds but he couldn’t ride it out. It drained him emotionally.

Later I learned from the front desk gal why he really left. She said, “Cindy was practicing on the mat next to him and she can get her legs completely straight. He thought that since this class is listed as Level One, no one should be able to straighten their legs.” I was relieved that he didn’t leave because of my nasally voice or bad jokes, but his reason for leaving early is hands-down the most ridiculous I have ever heard in my 10 years of teaching. Comparing yourself to the person next to you is unproductive and a waste of time.

Beginner classes are good for:

  • Beginners
  • Yogis who are tired that day (all levels)
  • Yogis who have been traveling and feel stiff (all levels)
  • Yogis who want to get back to the fundamentals (all levels)

When I told a friend the story of the Guy Who Left Early Because Cindy Straightened Her Leg, she quoted a lesson taught in her third grade classroom.

“If you’re the smartest one in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

In Ashtanga yoga you will never be the best in the room, and that’s how you grow. It will break down your ego and build you back up everyday. The Primary/First series is hard enough to keep yogis busy for decades and there’s no guarantee that a practitioner will ever move on to the Intermediate Series. Get over it, get to class and, if you can’t handle how amazing everyone is around you, don’t look at them.

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9 comments

  1. hrm, I feel like I need to try Ashtanga now. I’ve been looking to challenge and expand my practice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes! try it! maybe a few Intro or Improv classes at your local studio! After about 5 classes you’ll sorta understand what it entails. And for the first few years you’ll flail around. But it all comes together eventually! If you’re ever in Southern California come be my guest!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well Rachel, I get what you meant. After all yoga is individualistic and finding what feels good is different for everyone.

    I can relate to your post about my experience of getting frustrated with certain poses AND the instruction. For beginners, they need encouragement from the instructor. So they don’t feel out of place or hopeless. As you suggested there are many ways to work up to the pose depending on one’s level. And one should never compare. But sometimes it feels like the ‘smartest’ person in the room is just showing off.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You have a point! When I do a Level One class as a student I often put my mat behind a pole or in the far corner just in case I feel like adding harder variations into the pose instruction. If the teacher ignores me for those few breaths, the other students don’t even notice. The last thing I want is to “show off” or get any attention!

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  3. Rachel…you are extraordinary. This practice shatters so many illusions, my ego being one of them. See you soon
    Xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Molly- YOU’re extraordinary for doing all of first and half of second everyday. Who (besides you) has that kind of stamina?!?

      Like

  4. I love this! Personally, I find those around me, who are better, inspiring!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! And also the people who aren’t so capable but still show up everyday for years. Sometimes they get me to class when my ass is dragging! (Like today.)

      Like

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