While Buddhism implies renouncement of your own desires, yoga does not seem to help Western people achieve this goal. Meditation is touted as a way to calmness, but it appears that yoga exercises and mindfulness practices inflate your ego instead of making you less selfish, say researchers.
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Some people use only a part of the yoga practices and stick to the exercises while ignoring its mindfulness aspect. Others prefer to have it all and plunge into the world of yoga to experience various stages of tranquility and learn how to Ommm.
As the popularity of yoga has been growing over the recent years, more studios and teachers offer their services. You start going to yoga classes, do your first down dog and… feel pride. Is that what yoga is about?
Many people conceive of yoga as something kind of otherworldly, something that is ethereal and holistic, as it implies being able to fold your body in a number of weird ways, being slim and eating veggies all days long (the latter is often promoted as detox). So when you think about yoga, meditations mean that you try to listen to the silence with your eyes closed. This practice is supposed to help you feel the moment you are living here and now, and eliminate all passions from your soul.
In reality, it is often just the opposite. After several minutes of being a paragon of calmness and pure mind, we wake up only to boast our achievements on the net and pretend to be superior to others. Success breeds pride, and yoga turns out to be no exception. New scientific evidence supports it.
Not so unselfish
A team of researchers from University of Southampton has recently reported that yoga inflates ego instead of helping overcome it. Their colleagues from the University of Mannheim followed 93 students attending yoga classes for 15 weeks. They measured the study participants’ sense of self-enhancement: they were interested in whether these people thought they did better than other students, asked them to fill in a questionnaire aimed to find out their level of narcissistic tendencies, and a self-esteem scale was administered (the participants were to agree or disagree as to whether they had high self-esteem, etc.).
They found that the students were much more likely to praise themselves and display much higher self-enhancement after yoga sessions. If there had not been any yoga sessions on that day, their ego was quieter.
Such yoga-induced self-centeredness is reported in other studies as well. One of such studies enrolled 162 meditation practitioners, who also exhibited higher self-enhancement after sessions dedicated to mindfulness.
The wrong way
Researchers attribute the association to the wrong way of doing yoga, as the yoga practiced in the West differs from that of the East, its origin. The European and American perspective on yoga is that of a holistic lifestyle, which means no desire renouncement is implied. That being said, some yoga websites promote kindness, simple lifestyle and love of nature, but it is common knowledge that people tend to take pride in everything they have managed to do. That’s the way our mind in its current state works.
Ego inflation is a modern epidemic, with barrages of selfies filling social networks and swarms of self-praising messages being posted everywhere. For those yogis out there, and other folks caring about something other than success in this life, there is a recommendation to pay extra attention to your ego and keep it tamed; otherwise you may find yourself dominated by it. Let yoga be your way to a healthier body, not a reason to foster your self-centeredness.