2016's Lesson on Ego
Happy New Year Yogis! 2016 was a challenging yet rewarding year for me, as I’m sure it was for many of you. Naturally, there were ups and downs along my path, but I learned so much and I am so thankful.
One of the most significant things I learned in 2016 was in regards to teaching yoga. I learned how to get myself—or more specifically, my ego—out of the way in order to be of better service to students.
In October of 2016, I began apprenticing with Greg Nardi at Ashtanga Yoga Worldwide. One of the first things he taught me was the importance of having a ritual before class to center yourself before you teach. For Greg, that means sitting by the altar at the front of the Mysore room and going through traditional Sanskrit chants. As an assistant, I used that time to meditate quietly at the side of the room before class began. During my first week, this ritual helped me to quell any nervousness I felt in my new role as an apprentice and an assistant.
But this process began working for me on a deeper level after that first week. The new apprenticeship propelled me into greater self-observation. I became aware there was a major roadblock to my teaching: my ego. I noticed I was often motivated to “impress” others—my students, my mentor, my fellow instructors—with my knowledge and prowess as a teacher. I wanted to prove myself worthy of being in the teacher role; though in actuality, no one was asking me to prove anything. I think a lot of this stemmed from the fact that I was new to teaching Ashtanga and therefore, a bit insecure.
For me, the by-product of wanting to impress was self-consciousness. When you’re worried about seeming competent, you’re constantly critiquing yourself throughout class. Can you imagine all the mental chatter involved with this, as I’m trying to lead students? Clearly, not all of my energy could go towards the students, the ones I intended to serve. Teaching is a lot like practicing yoga; the fluctuations of the mind lead to distraction and suffering, taking you away from the goal of connecting to your pure inner self. Teaching, like practice, gets clouded and less effective as a result.
But taking time to center myself before teaching gives me a chance to consciously set my ego aside. I remind myself that teaching is NOT about me. It is about serving the students. I can only do this well when I am a pure vessel for the teaching to come through. You see, I believe the same inspiration that causes a painter to create a masterpiece or a musician to compose a beautiful song is the same inspiration that comes through a teacher when they transmit knowledge in the yoga room. It is a divine process that has very little to do with me, or any teacher, personally. We are simply there to aid in the process of learning as students take steps on the road to self-knowledge. It is divinity that both calls the student to know herself more deeply, and moves through the teacher to provide guidance.
Setting one's ego aside is analogous to the Western concept of humility. Humility is powerful, and can be leveraged in every area of our lives. I look forward to expanding upon this idea in my post next week :)
Wishing you a wonderful 2017!