Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Does my Dove Response solidify the Ego (ie the "antithesis of yoga"?)

"...isn't your article solidifying the ego which is the antithesis of yoga?"- Daniel

This comment was posted on my "Response to Dove- 10 things you need to tell yourself" post last week.

I think this is an important question and I thank you Daniel for voicing it (in a very nice way :) ). The interesting thing about yoga is that although most yogis firmly state that yoga isn't a "religion" nor "spiritual" (which would allow for guiding mores, written "archaic" and authentic guidelines to live by and an ultimate end goal- ie enlightenment), many yogis bemoan the superficial (ie physical only) aspect of practitioners and Western Yoga.

I find many aspects of yogic teachings useful tools for my daily life. However, it is not my spirituality- I am pagan and some of my spiritual beliefs don't quite mesh with yoga. I'm ok with that.

So, to Daniel's comment.

As I haven't studied yogic teachings in depth, I'm certainly not qualified to give an overly educated answer. What I can do is give my own perspective, educational background in psychology on the question of "ego", attachment, mental health and yoga.

I find the use of the term "ego" to be troublesome for many reasons, one being the direct historical connotations of the Freudian origins of the term. In psychology, although Freud was a revolutionary, his therapy techniques and theories are no longer viewed as accurate nor are they recommended for use (outside of Europe and some practitioners in Quebec). Vilifying the "ego" (or the "id") isn't helpful, instead it's an extremely simplistic way of viewing the human sense of self.

The reality is that as social persons we function within relationships with others. These relationships with other people are forged and strengthened through emotional attachment and interactions. Our own sense of the Self and self-worth is created through thousands of interactions, emotional bonds with firstly our families and then others as well as situations throughout our lives. This sense of self, in it's healthy form, is an important prerequisite in order to form healthy and appropriate emotional attachments and relationships with others.

Although our society has definitely moved to a more narcissistic part of the Self spectrum (all about ME), I do feel that the other extreme is equally unhealthy from a mental health, relationship perspective. I plan on living life at 100%, and I am a firm believer that the people, friends and loved ones in my family are an essential component in this path.

With regards to the "ego" of telling yourself 10 things you love about your intrinsic (non physical self), I feel that in the context this exercise is necessary for the majority of women in western society. Our society sends extremely strong messages about a woman's worth based on her physical appearance. As a result, often women (and young girls) base, at least a portion, of their self worth on their physical appearance.

Disordered sense of self, body-image and eating (more prevalent in women in western society) can lead to dieting (which leads to health problems), depression, and eating disorders. Here is where I feel using a simplistic rhetoric of "ego=bad" for a reality where simply "letting go" isn't working for the thousands of women who struggle daily under a barrage of unhealthy messages and sense of self-worth tied directly to a forever aging body. Especially in a physical discipline like yoga, where the billion dollar ad industry is specifically marketed to lithe, young, (white) women and many traditions focus on the physical body in order to achieve mental clarity.

(a perfect example of yoga ad industry...)

If you are a person who has a fantastic sense of self-worth and feel confident where you are intrinsically (and, as unjust as it is, this is more likely true if you are male) then I see the "non-attachment" of yogic teachings being useful. If you find these yogic teachings as being helpful to you, and have fully adopted to follow a yogic lifestyle, I respect and support that 100%.

I do believe that the majority of women (and some men) could certainly benefit from actively finding a sense of self-worth from internal characteristics starting with explicitly stating what they like best about themselves that isn't tied to their physical body. If this isn't "yoga"- I'm 100% ok with that :)


  1. "Vilifying the "ego" (or the "id") isn't helpful, instead it's an extremely simplistic way of viewing the human sense of self."

    While I may use the term "ego" in a negative way (i.e., so and so has a big ego to mean jerk, selfish etc.,) I do feel the same way as you describe in the above sentence and often struggle with this aspect found in spirituality. I wonder if Freud was aware of the quagmire he opened with that word:)

    1. exactly- i will also admit that i have used "egotistical" often.

      Ugh, I'm sure he was aware, my impression was that he was pretty darn self-absorbed, when he was aware enough between bouts of high from snorting coke.... lol.

  2. Screw Freud. He gives me the creeps and he was never very good for women.

    Your original post rocked and this one rocked even more, sista!

    As people we have the right to interpret and blend lessons, beliefs and philosophies however we choose. It's one of the beautiful things about living in a free society. I don't categorize myself in any way. I read a great book called "Buddhism Without Beliefs" years ago that was great at understanding some of the core teachings without preaching to me. I was baptized Catholic, went to five or six different churches until I was 10, left all that behind the next year and have since created my own set of beliefs that evolve as I grow and age. Yoga has been one of my many practices and there are parts that I've taken with me as I build who I am, both physically and mentally, and while chanting makes me giggle, it doesn't make me disrespect those who get something from it. I've been to African-American churches and I've attended Mexican Catholic weddings and yet the only times I ever felt like I was having a religious experience was when I got the chance to see the true poets, speakers like Iyanla Vanzant and Maya Angelou and Eve Ensler, talk about life and love and spirit. Everyone gets to choose what they allow in and how they want to process all the influences around us - and finding that sense of self confidence and emotional security no matter what gets shot at us every second by the media? Priceless.

    Hell yeah.

    PS - I saw another version of the Toe Sox ad and all I keep wondering is, did they photoshop out her bosom? I'd love to see the same photo of an average woman in these poses...

    1. Thank you!! :D
      I agree, and I respect that for the commenter it would appear that yoga means something different for him- which is fine. :) He was actually very polite in his comment, which I very much appreciate. I think, as Rachel pointed out on Twitter, that the confusion is actually between the use of the word "ego" and "self-esteem, confidence" which are really two different things (thank you Rachel, for that lovely comment- you should share more of your thoughts here!).

      But I also, like yourself, feel a bit uncomfortable with the concept of adopting one tradition or rule-set 100%, it just doesn't suit who I am. AND like you, I also have had much more spiritual experiences while listening to powerful music live (live music of any sort has the power to bring me to tears...).

      i actually wondered that too- i figure taping was involved.... :S As a teacher Kathryn Budig is lovely, I really enjoy her classes on Yogaglo, I'm just not really a fan of her choice to participate in these ads....

  3. Polite comment aside, I think it has to be recognized that the female experience in our culture is very different than the male experience. No matter how I avoid the media and know that female images are unrealistic and unhealthy, it's still always there in the back of my mind. And I'm middle-aged! It was even more painful as a younger woman. Encouraging women to love themselves, physical body aside is healthy. If more women could just love themselves, treat themselves well society would be much healthier.....and pharmaceutical companies much poorer.

    I still think your original post is powerful, as is your response in this post. Love yourself, love each other. It sums it up beautifully.

  4. looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooove! I love Nicole's response, too! <3


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