When I hear 'ego' I think of a famous actor demanding only green M&Ms from the food service, or a hot-shot Wall Street type half-talking to you while doing more important things on his Blackberry.
There are egomaniacs out there, sure. But you don't have to be famous to have an ego.
We all have an ego
Our egos impact us, impact our every experience. And if we're not careful, they can take over, pull us out of an experience.
An 80 year old woman came to my yoga class. I had this palpable sense that she wanted to prove she was Just Like Everyone Else, that she could do it all, that she did not need special treatment. When I asked people to bring their ear to their shoulder, she lowered not just her ear, but her entire shoulder nearly down to her belly button.
Was she in the pose? Kind of. Was she Just Like Everyone Else? And then some. Was she doing the pose 'correctly'? Was she getting the full benefit of yoga (body-mind-spirit connection)? I very much doubt it.
The reason I say she was not in the pose 'correctly', the reason I put that in quotes, is because everyone has a different 'correctly'. We don't all have the same body, so we won't all look the same as we do a pose (or any activity, really). Was she getting the full body-mind-spirit connection that yoga is intended for? I doubt it because in that moment, she wasn't connecting with her body, her ego was running the show. So right there, things break down.
It takes a lot of work not to let our egos take over
It takes awareness, mindfulness, and constant check-ins with ourselves not to let our ego take over. The benefit: we get to be in each experience more fully. We get to be in each experience in the way that suits our individual needs, that is 'correct' for us.
Because I had polio as a child, I come up against my ego in every single yoga pose. I have learned, through much effort, to work with my ego, not against it. I have also learned that this is constant work, not a one-off thing.
How do we work with our egos?
1. Cultivating Awareness
We can start by listening to that little voice inside us, the one that is telling us that this pose we're struggling to be in (that is, to be in like everyone else) feels wrong. We can start by just noticing what our body is telling us (and our body will tell us, don't you worry).
Coming to terms with our needs, acknowledging that our needs look different than everyone else's takes time. We must be gentle with ourselves, know that self-improvement is a marathon, not a sprint.
Check in with yourself. Ask yourself, "What if I do it in this modified way that feels good to my body instead of trying to look like that flexible person over there?"
4. Practice, not Perfection
You may have days when the answer to #3 is, "I want to do it like that flexible person over there." That doesn't make you bad or a failure. Our work is simply to notice, to experiment, try our best. Again and again.
Think Long Term
Chances are, this will be a lifelong conversation you have with yourself. So be gentle with yourself. Get that conversation going. One day at a time.