Who Am I? Use The Enneagram With Yoga To Find Your Answer

In an ideal world, we’d always think and act from a place of wisdom and oneness. But in the real world, ingrained patterns and personality traits can get in the way. Enter the Enneagram, a personality assessment that can help you see what’s keeping you from realizing your most authentic, highest self. Here’s how to use it, along with your yoga practice, to change course.

Coral Brown, a yoga teacher and licensed mental-health counselor 
in Rhode Island, uses the word 
“co-dependent” to describe her previous romantic relationship, which lasted more than a decade. But at the time, she didn’t realize she was in such a pattern of over-giving that she was losing herself. While 
her yoga practice helped shine a light on 
this tendency, Brown says studying the Enneagram—a four-decade-old personality-assessment system—also revealed that 
it was time to move on from the relationship. “The Enneagram enabled me to really see my core patterns,” says Brown, “ultimately helping me meet my needs in a healthier, more conscious way than ever before.”

The name Enneagram stems from the Greek words ennea, a prefix for “nine,” and gramma, meaning “to draw.” The system’s icon is a nine-pointed star, each point representing a distinct personality type. Most Enneagram experts agree we are all born with one dominant personality type (or number), which largely determines how we learn to adapt to our environment and the people in it. The Enneagram surfaced in the United States in the 1970s, riding the tails of the human-potential movement (think therapy, encounter groups, and primal scream). Since then, therapists, spiritual teachers, coaches, and even businesses have used the Enneagram as a tool to stoke authenticity, expose core motivations, and ultimately reduce interpersonal conflict. How can a simple personality test do all this?

“There’s resistance to change within all of us, and the Enneagram describes what that resistance is about for each of us,” says Peter O’Hanrahan, a leading international Enneagram teacher and trainer. “As a result, this system gives you very clear information about what you need to work on.” To wit, when Brown learned more about her Enneagram number—a Two—she was better able to see her core pattern of giving to others to feel good about herself, and that realization gave her a choice: do something about her blind spots, or ignore them. She chose to act. “I left my partner, and I found more of my own identity in my yoga teaching,” says Brown. “I was more aligned with my truer purpose and nature.”

Susan Piver, author of the meditation primer Start Here Now and a meditation teacher who leads retreats on the Enneagram, says the kind of alignment Brown experienced is what yoga is about at its core. “The Enneagram will tell us what we cannot see about ourselves—our ways of being that stem from our most wounded selves, which create confusion as a result,” says Piver. And if you’re willing to look at these wounds, which are almost always rooted in unexamined pain, you can start to chart a new, more authentic course forward, she says. “At a certain point—especially if you’re on a spiritual path—you have to do this,” Piver says. Read on to find out how.

See also Quiz: Which of Your Chakras Is Out of Balance?

Self-Inquiry: Who Am I?

The work of the Enneagram begins with figuring out your number, which essentially represents how you present yourself to others, where your attention goes when you quiet down, and what triggers your behaviors. Piver, for example, is a Four, which means her chief issue 
is envy. “Before I knew I was 
a Four, I used to think that 
what I longed for would make me happy,” she says. “Now, I’m able to see the longing itself as a sign that I’m unsettled, unhappy, or hurt, and that I can turn my attention within instead of looking for something outside. This helps me notice when I need to take better care of myself.”

In addition to revealing negative patterns and deep wounds, the Enneagram also highlights your greatest strengths. For example, when Piver’s envy is brought into balance, it becomes the more evolved version of itself: equanimity. “Envy and equanimity are on a continuum,” she says. And these continuums exist for all of the numbers, which means that regularly trying to find balance between your strengths and blind spots is the key to living 
a more aligned, authentic life.

Even better, all of this self-reflection comes with improved communication with other people. That’s why Piver calls the Enneagram an upaya, Sanskrit for “skillful means.” While she cautions against using the system to label someone, she says it can be a helpful tool to navigate communication blocks. For example: “My partner is a One, and Ones are focused on right and wrong,” says Piver. “I’m a Four, and Fours are focused on meaning. If we get into an argument, I want to talk and understand, but I can’t do that with him until I acknowledge what went wrong—that I see where the misstep happened. That is very useful to him because everything in him wants to get to the bottom of the right and wrong in order to fix it.” Once Piver’s partner’s needs have been addressed, they can then have the kind of conversation that also works for her.

Ultimately, the Enneagram can help us release the tight hold we have on our version of things. “It’s hard to understand a person’s makeup when you are only looking at it through your own lens,” says Piver. “But what if you were told, ‘Here are nine lenses—which one do you think this person is looking through?’ It gives you a way to let go of expectations so that a more genuine exchange can transpire. It generates compassion.”

See also Quiz: What’s Your Dosha?

Put the Enneagram 
Into Practice

Yoga offers the perfect training ground to explore the nuances of your Enneagram type. When you know your number, you can start to use the Enneagram to let wash away what Patanjali called the “layers and imperfections concealing truth.” “It’s an incredible companion [to yoga] that covers territory yoga doesn’t address,” says Michael Cohen, founder of the Kirtan Leader Institute and a certified Enneagram practitioner. “Yoga talks in broad terms about how to transcend our limitations; the Enneagram gives incredible detail about what that means.” For example, each number has a corresponding somatic pattern. “For Fives, Sixes, and Sevens, poses that bring energy to the lower body and the feet are very important because these types tend to leave their bodies by going up into their heads,” says O’Hanrahan. Once you know your type’s patterns, he says, you can customize your yoga practice to support the work you’re doing to escape your old grooves (or samskaras, in Sanskrit) and form new ones that serve you better.

To that end, Brown has paired a pose with each Enneagram number to accentuate both the challenges and the possibilities for that number. Determine your type, then use your pose and mantra to continue your self-inquiry so that how you do asana reflects how you do you—with awakened clarity and compassion.

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Discover Your Enneagram Number

The nine numbers, or personality types, of the Enneagram each have corresponding qualities. To determine your number, read about each one’s defining traits and key motivations here, and then see which number resonates most strongly for you. (Keep in mind that we have aspects of all nine types inside us, though we tend to have more of one type than the others.) With an open mind and an investigative spirit, simply notice what resonates most.

1. The Reformer

Defining traits:

Principle, purpose, self-control, and perfectionism

Key motivations:

To be right; 
to strive for greater things

Basic fear:

Being corrupt, evil, defective

At their best:

Ones are conscientious and ethical, with a strong sense of right 
and wrong. They are teachers and advocates for change, always striving 
to improve things.

At their worst:

Ones are afraid of making a mistake; they can slip into being critical and perfectionistic, and tend to struggle with resentment and impatience.

2. The Helper

Defining traits:

Generosity, people pleasing, and possessiveness

Key motivations:

To be loved, needed, and appreciated; to vindicate their claims about themselves

Basic fear:

Being unworthy of love

At their best:

Twos are empathetic, giving, and driven to be close to others.

At their worst:

Twos can slip into doing things for others simply to feel needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and acknowledging their own needs.

3. The Achiever

Defining traits:

Adaptability, desire to excel, and image-
consciousness

Key motivations:

To distinguish 
themselves from others; to be admired; 
to impress others

Basic fear:

Being worthless

At their best:

Threes are self-accepting, authentic, and role models who inspire.

At their worst:

Threes can be overly concerned with their image and what others think of them; they typically have problems with workaholism and
competitiveness.

4. The Individualist

Defining traits:

Expressiveness, drama, self-absorption

Key motivations:

To create and surround themselves with beauty, and to take care of emotional needs before attending to anything else

Basic fear:

Having no identity

At their best:

Fours are highly creative, self-aware, sensitive, and reserved.

At their worst:

Fours can be moody and self-conscious. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-pity, and self-indulgence.

5. The Investigator

Defining traits:

Perceptiveness, innovation, and isolation

Key motivations:

To possess knowledge; to have everything figured out as a way of defending against threats from their surroundings

Basic fear:

Being helpless or incapable

At their best:

Fives are visionary pioneers, often ahead of their time, and able to see the world in an entirely new way.

At their worst:

Fives can become detached. They typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation.

6. The Loyalist

Defining traits:

Responsibility, anxiety, and suspicion

Key motivations:

To feel 
supported by others, to test 
the attitudes of others toward them

Basic fear:

Lack of security or guidance

At their best:

Sixes tend to be stable, self-reliant, and trustworthy. They foresee problems and foster cooperation.

At their worst:

Sixes can be indecisive, reactive, and rebellious. They can also become defensive and evasive, and deal with self-doubt and suspicion of others.

7. The Enthusiast

Defining traits:

Spontaneity, versatility, and scatteredness

Key motivations:

To maintain their freedom and happiness; to avoid missing out on worthwhile experiences

Basic fear:

Being deprived and in pain

At their best:

Sevens are extroverted and practical. They focus their talents on becoming joyous and satisfied.

At their worst:

Sevens can become distracted and exhausted by staying on the go; they typically have problems with impatience and impulsivity.

8. The Challenger

Defining traits:

Decisiveness, self-confidence, willfulness

Key motivations:

To be self-reliant and important in the world

Basic fear:

Being controlled by others

At their best:

Eights are self-mastering, and use their strength to improve others’ lives. They are self-confident and decisive.

At their worst:

Eights can be egocentric and domineering. At times, they feel they must control the people around them, sometimes becoming confrontational. They can have problems with their temper and showing vulnerability.

9. The Peacemaker

Defining traits:

Receptivity, reassuringness, complacency

Key motivations:

To create 
harmony; to preserve things as they are

Basic fear:

Loss and separation

At their best:

Nines are able to bring people together and heal conflicts. They are accepting, trusting, and stable; they are usually creative, optimistic, and supportive.

At their worst:

Nines can be too willing to go along with others to keep the peace. They want everything to go smoothly, and so can also be complacent. They may have problems with inertia and stubbornness.

NEXT: The Best Yoga Pose For Your Enneagram Number