Research shows that Western ways of meditation and yoga actually increase, not diminish, our ego. The latter is usually the reason for people to start doing this.
To think about: Whatever we do and no matter how spiritual it is, it doesn’t make us better than anyone else. What is the reason we want to feel and pretend to be better than others?
In an effort to curtail the power of our ego and get closer to our spirit and connection to the divine, many of us have started on a path to enlightenment.
This path usually involves a process of awakening to the reality around you, self-help books, herbal medicines, yoga and meditation; all fantastic tools on your way. We feel that we are becoming wiser, more connected and sometimes even more evolved than the people who are not on the same path as we are.
A recent study goes against this approach, indicating that popular meditation and yoga practices can actually boost your ego. Who would have thought that?
We all know some spiritual types who seem to have it all figured out: they are dedicated to their daily practices and they are always the first to give you advice and explain what you are doing wrong and why you haven’t found inner peace yet. These people have the best intentions, of course, but the concept of being better, above others, or being more enlightened than our brothers and sisters on this planet is really all ego! It is very easy to fall into this trap.
When I first “awakened” more than ten years ago, I felt like I had so much knowledge that no one else had realized. And yes, that way I felt superior to many of my peers and put myself on a pedestal. I didn’t do that on purpose, it just happened.
Since then, I’ve learned that the moment you think you have all the answers and get it all, is the exact moment you need to step back and realize that you don’t really know anything yet. What is right for you may not be the truth for someone else. We all walk a different path, make a different journey. True to the same destination, but none of us is better than or superior to another. It doesn’t matter how lost some people seem to be.
The report was published online in the scientific journal Psychological Science . Researchers found that the Buddhist teaching in which meditation helps you overcome the ego conflicts with an argument from William James, an American psychologist, who says that practicing any skill fosters a stronger sense of Self. So the practice to make yourself better does just that: it makes you feel better, better than you were and in many cases better than the people around you.
There is already a lot of evidence for James’ theory, but a team from Germany decided to test it specifically on people who practice yoga and meditation.
The researchers gathered 93 yoga students and evaluated the sense of self-enhancement for 15 weeks. They did this in a number of ways. First, they asked how the participants felt compared to the average yoga student in their class. The participants then completed a list of narcissistic tendencies by having them score deep sentences, such as “I will be known for the good deeds I will do.” Finally, they placed the participants on a scale according to whether they agreed with statements such as ‘I am very confident right now’.
According to this method, the participants had a significantly higher sense of Self an hour after their yoga practice than if they had not practiced yoga for 24 hours.
Another study looked at 162 people who practiced meditation, gathered through meditation groups on Facebook. These participants showed similar self-magnification results to those from the yoga study. Participants were asked to indicate how much they agreed with statements such as ‘Compared to the average participant in this study, I am not biased.’ The study showed that the participants experienced a higher sense of self-magnification in the hour following the meditation than if they had not meditated for 24 hours.
The participants’ level of well-being was also measured, in two ways: general life satisfaction and eudaimonic well-being, which measures satisfaction with autonomy, personal growth, positive relationships with others, purpose in life, control over environment and self-acceptance . Researchers saw that the level of well-being increased with self-enlargement, suggesting that increasing the Self correlates with an increased sense of well-being.
The researchers concluded that ‘silence of the ego is a central element in the philosophy of yoga and Buddhism. That element, and its supposed implications, require a high degree of stillness and is often referred to as an explanation for the positive effects of this type of exercise on the mind and body. In contrast, our research says that this type of exercise strengthens the self and that, in turn, it increases well-being.’
An alternative explanation for this study suggests that the participants approach meditation and yoga completely wrong. The participants were all from Germany, and according to many academics, the westernized practices of Buddhism have no regard for selflessness, which is otherwise the very purpose of these exercises.
You could say that westernized versions of yoga and meditation make the practice insignificant compared to the “purer” forms.
Should we stop doing yoga and meditation or laugh at practitioners of these techniques? Not at all! This research clearly points out to us that whether you practice yoga or not, no one is better than another. The activities we do have nothing to do with that. Yoga and meditation can help us immensely on our journey and to come to the clear understanding we may need, but only to remember to keep our ego in check. It’s okay to have an ego; everyone has one and you may not like it but you will never get rid of it. But it’s good to ask yourself if you practice yoga to feel better than others, and if so, why?
We are all walking on a path to discover ourselves and we are all walking home together. We all face challenges, and some of these exercises can help us behave differently in difficult times. But in reality we are all always one!