All yoga practice involves an ego battle, to some extent. It could be a minor tiff or a full-blown battle, interspersed with periods of love-making, tender and at times passionate. Without wanting to wade too deeply into the intricacies of yoga's rich philosophical tapestry, after all 'who am I' to even attempt such a thing? I nevertheless dare to point out that this ego battle is a battle between one's self and one's Self.
The case for 'getting out of your own way' has never been more urgent. Confronting the ego on the mat can open up the space that's needed to fight the battles that really matter. However, when we become fixated with fighting ourselves (true 'Self') not our egos, the practice becomes self-serving (as in 'small self') and if all this talk of egos and selves is confusing, don't worry, these terms are part of the sophisticated act that props up the illusion that we are somehow in control. Practice allows one to drop away the effort required to sustain the illusion (maya), thereby glimpsing the true nature of reality.
What do I mean by fighting ourselves? If you have ever found yourself holding your breath and gritting your teeth, hardening your eyes and muscling your way through the asanas, chances are you are not hearing that very quiet voice that coaxes you down a different path altogether. Chances are you believe this effort to be somehow necessary, be it because it's something you're used to, or because this level of interaction with the body is unfamiliar and therefore you know no other way to endure it. The principles of peace and love are replaced by struggle and pain. I am not here to say that this is wrong, it is what it is what it is. But there is something here to be learnt, something that differentiates yoga from a muscle binding enterprise that strengthens our resolve and endurance. Our practice on the mat is our rehearsal for how we practice our humanity off the mat. After all, does the planet need more self-serving iron men or peaceful warriors engaged in non-violent resistance?
Many school of yoga place enormous emphasis on seva or self-service, the wisdom teachings hark lyrical about compassion. However, if we have not confronted our egos, if we are fighting ourselves, holding our breath and enduring the inevitable pain of existence, won't we be handing out rotting banana skins instead of nourishing fruits? Unless we quieten down and listen to that subterranean pulse, life-sustaining, tender and utterly beautiful, following what we really love, connecting with the intimacy of each breath that rises and falls outside of the net of our controlling grip, unless we get out of our own way, the world will keep bringing us back, face to face with our foes. Our small selves will keep yakking on, pretending to know what life is all about. Confusion will abound, and we will be of little use to anyone.
If on the other hand we take that other path, the quiet one, we ally with spontaneity, we open our eyes, literally and metaphorically, to what is really needed. In the words of Jonathan Kozol we learn to 'pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.' Our victories over our egos may be the most important ones to win, they teach us a different way of fighting