Casting Off The Cloak

True story #1: I was teaching a yoga vinyasa when a small voice in the back asked: “Can I do this other pose instead of the one you’re asking for? I do this other one much better.”

True story #2: In another class, I had a student who made a habit of asking others in the class what they were feeling. This student was particularly limber and she asked a rather stiff girl this question while they were in a straddle pose. It was clear that this limber student had a need for attention.

Both stories are examples of what Classical Yoga identifies as the poisonous Ego identity.  The Ego is false and needy. It does not act in your best interest; it acts in its own best interest.

When a student indicates that they are at an Advanced level, it is understood that one is advanced at a mental, spiritual and physical level and of those, the physical is the least important. While it is common for a beginner yogi to ask others “what they are feeling, anyone with a year or more of practice would – and should – know better.

Likewise, substitution of one pose for another that you “do better” suggests that this student lacks the fortitude to tackle what is hard for her – or to even try. She would rather do something that is easy for her. (Interestingly enough, this student often complained that her own practice had become boring. Hmm, wonder why?)

In both cases, we can see that Ego played a big role. The term “ego” carries a lot of baggage in our culture and when you say someone has a big ego, you’d better be prepared for a fight. So, let me see if I can clarify ego from the perspective of Classical Yoga.

Certainly, there is your identity. You may be a mother, a father, a stay-at-home caretaker or an entrepreneur. It is who you are in your daily life.

And then there is this cloak of persona that most of us tend to wear. I suspect we develop these cloaks because we don’t feel that we are enough as we are. Our cloaks make us feel bigger, better and more important than other people.  This cloak is the Ego that Yoga warns us about.

We know that the cloak is a phony. What we don’t realize is that the cloak is also a prison.  When we are wearing our cloaks, we can’t make a mistake or do something silly or – God forbid – fall out of our Crow Pose. What would people think?  So we choose what we are good at. Every. Time.

And yet, every successful person – yoga practitioners included – will tell you that they learned more from their failures than their successes. A “safe” life, inside your cloak, is barely any life at all. There is no growth, no maturity, and certainly no liberation.

It is said that how you do your yoga reflects how you approach your life. Imagine if you chose to live your life as if you’d stayed in First Grade in elementary school. Certainly, you’d have fun; after all, it’s First Grade!  You’d know everything because it was the same stuff you’ve been doing for the last thirty years. Think of how impressed all the new kids would be to see you master First Grade poses!

Maybe that’s enough for you. And that’s okay. Those yoga Stretch and Tone classes are just fine.

But isn’t there a small part of you that looks at those people who are beyond First Grade, struggling in their practices with new ideas and concepts and says, “I want to be there!” It probably won’t be fun at first but something inside you recognizes it as a chance for growth.

Classical Yoga asks us to face these growth challenges not just as learning new gymnastics or a great stretch for the body but also stretches for the mind and the soul. It asks you to face fears, feel small sometimes, and fail other times. But you will grow into a more realized person and free human being.

And you can’t truly do that without throwing off the cloak.