Yoga teaches us that our ego is not the same as the essence of our true, spiritual nature, which is who we really are at the core of our being. The ego is linked to our surface personality and is found in the negative mental thoughts that traverse the landscape of our mind on a daily basis. The ego used to be quite useful with its fear-based worry – protecting us from the saber-toothed tigers and similar predators when we needed to flee for our survival. The ego is that little voice in our head that keeps us feeling separated from one another and the cosmos. It’s the storyteller that makes up delicious little lies that keep us bound up and attached to the thoughts about who we are.
When we’re lost in our ego, we forget who we truly are. We have this amnesia and no longer realize that we are Spirit and the vastness of the universe and all that is. Instead, we reside in a place of “poor, little me.” Me, me, me, and mine, mine, mine. This is our ego, our limited identity. And within this ego are all the many ways that we suffer as human beings living in a human body. (Read more in How to See the Ego for What it Is.)
Thankfully, yoga gives us many practices in which we can cultivate our connection to our true essence, our true spiritual and divine nature. If we don’t, we’ll get so caught up in our ego identity that suffering will become a way of life and we don’t want that. We want deep contentment and liberation from our small self, our small ego.
Of course, we need our ego to perform the roles we play in our lives, but we want to embody and live from a place of Spirit, of peace and abundance. In order to do that, we can practice our yoga and various meditations to gently loosen our ego identification. Here’s one such meditation.
Find a comfortable meditation seat. Rock gently from side to side, from front to back, until you find yourself seated in the center of your sit bones. Let the spine grow long as the shoulders drop away from the ears. Now close your eyes and begin to focus on your inhalation and exhalation. Feel the energy of your breath as it washes away any tension in your body and mind.
Now take a moment to consider what it feels like to be you. Feel into your identity. How does it feel to play the roles you play in your life? In other words, what does your ego identity feel like? Notice the ways in which it feels good to be you. Notice the ways in which this identity feels limiting. For most of us, we feel limited by our ego identity because it holds us back from residing in that great, sacred divine nature that we really are.
Now take a moment to consider how you might live in harmony with your ego. Just breathe into this question for a while and see if anything comes up. One way to do this is to be the witness of your ego as you sit in meditation. Another way to do this is to use a particular mantra to understand the ego part of you and the sacred part of you. Let’s do that now. (Read more in What's a Mantra?)
Continue to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the tension in your body and mind continually melting away. On your next inhalation, recite the Sanskrit word, ham. On the exhalation, recite the word, so. Ham translates to “me," “I” or “mine,” while so means "that." When put together, So'ham translates to “I am That,” meaning I am that great divine, vast, sacred universe. (Learn more in So'ham. I am That.)
Feel the meaning of So'ham deep in your core. Let ham connect to what it feels like to be the “me,” the “mine" and the “I.” This is the ego. On an inhalation, really connect to that limited ego sensation. As you exhale on the so, feel into the sensation of what it feels like to be that vast, sacred power that is you. Repeat this practice for several breaths, allowing that constricted feeling of your egoistic being to gradually release its hold.
As you do this, feel into the feeling of expansiveness that is your true nature. Relax into it and feel it deeply. Slowly open your eyes. This is who you really are. This is your sacred identity. Think of this meditation as a timeout from being fully engrossed in the identity part of you. Practice it whenever you feel too tightly wrapped up in your ego.