According to Eckhardt Tolle (The Power of Now) the words most used in our vocabulary are ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’, and ‘myself’. In his book ‘A New Earth’, Tolle elaborates on the ‘Ego’ extensively, and his very insightful and apt description of it relates closely to Yoga’s approach to the ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’.

Over thousands of years, first the ‘rishis’ – the seers – during the time of the Vedas, and after that many more wise yogis, recognized that the human mind suffers from certain afflictions. They can be present to a subtle, moderate or excessive extent. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras these five afflictions are referred to as the ‘Kleshas’, and the one concerning the ‘I’ is called ‘Asmita’. This translates as ‘the wrong understanding of the self’. What exactly does this mean?

What is Asmita?

The sense of ‘I’ or ego, takes some time to develop. Children initially refer to themselves in the third person i.e. ‘Lucy is hungry’. Then at some stage the ubiquitous ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘myself’, and ‘mine’ begin to manifest, with which attachments to possessions form.

It is healthy and paramount to have a sense of ‘I’, to know one’s place in this life, take responsibility for one’s being, our role in society, and for creating boundaries. But to various degrees, we all have the tendency to identify with the ‘roles’ we are playing this lifetime. We become very absorbed by ‘being’ e.g. a yoga practitioner, a professional in our chosen area, a daughter, a son, a mother, a husband, a wife or a house owner etc. In this way, we easily lose sight of our true depth, the beauty, and the wonderful complexity already existing within us. We are so much more than e.g. a builder, a yoga teacher, an accountant, lover, mother or any role. Identifying with a role we play in life takes away from the rich experience of connecting with our inherent wisdom, graciousness, and beauty.

Can we overcome these afflictions?

Apart from asmita, the other kleshas are avidya – misapprehension, raga – attachment to the repetition of beautiful experiences, dvesa – avoidance or dislike of something uncomfortable or hurtful we previously experienced, and abhinivesha – fear of death. We cannot eradicate the afflictions of the mind, but we can learn to diminish them greatly.

How to reduce the effects of the Kleshas

– I and Me

To reduce the effects of the ‘Kleshas’; the fist step to take is to become conscious of our habitual patterns. Notice how the majority of our thoughts evolve around ‘I’, and ‘me’, to the point of obsession. Next, let’s try to listen to our own or another’s speech in conversations, from a different perspective. How often are we getting tangled up in our story, flavoured with endless musings about ourselves and our experiences. There certainly is a place for sharing one’s experiences with our family and friends, but to what extent? Notice the tendency we have to repeat ourselves, and elaborate just a bit too much on a topic concerning ourselves.

– Practice Yoga

To help overcome this, practicing Yoga is one of the best tools for awareness – building; being able to take a step back, and to observe ourselves and the way we speak, from a distance.

– Developing listening skills, compassion and a caring attitude

It is a beautiful practice to honour other people’s presence by listening to them with focus. As a good friend, we will always respond to someone’s story without comparing their situation to our own, and in doing so, turning the conversation back to ourselves. Listening skills, a caring attitude, and compassion, are admirable character traits worth developing. Being generous with our time, lending a helping hand, giving assistance and support to others on all levels will diminish ‘Asmita’ – the ‘wrong understanding of self’.

– My and Mine

Another important aspect to contemplate in connection with this issue is our identification with our possessions, and the strong attachments we have and are subsequently forming.

– We don’t ‘own’ anything

A helpful approach here is to come to the understanding that nothing truly ‘belongs’ to us; not our spouses, children or our home, land etc. At the end of our life we will have to part from everything we thought we ‘owned’. So many people on their deathbed express regret for having dedicated far too much time to work, and not having spent enough quality time with family and friends, as well as spending time with themselves.

– Become free with Yoga

With the continuous practice of Yoga it becomes much easier to understand – and for this understanding to truly ‘sink in’ – that owning something precious doesn’t necessarily make us a more loveable individual. With regular practice we come to recognize our natural beauty within, developing wonderful qualities such as kindness, truthfulness, generosity of heart, responsibility and reliability, tolerance, non-grasping, a willingness to share and also care for others. We all crave to be loved and accepted for who we are. If we are loving and accepting, it is easier for those around us to replicate those feelings.

Practicing Yoga is an expression of this love, the love of our true Self. Feeling comfortable within our bodies, indulging in our breath, and ultimately being able to tame our minds to such a degree that it serves and supports our being – we create a balanced, contented, and ecstatic life – our birth right.

Come and practice!

OM Shanti, Angelika