When Ego Takes Over

Erica Rodefer Winters gets a lesson in humility when her show-off pose leads to an injury. Be honest, when do your peacock feathers rise in yoga?

Over the weekend, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when something beautiful, glamorous, and inspirational caught my eye. It was a lovely woman, perfectly poised and coiffed, in Visvamitrasana. She had just a hint of a smile on her face that clearly communicated: “This is SO easy for me.” The pose dedicated to the Sage Visvamitra is part arm balance, part standing pose, part twist, and ALL ego—at least for me.

Let me explain. I remember a class a few years back when a teacher guided us through the prep poses, working up to the beautiful Visvamitrasana. When we got to the full version of the pose, she asked me to demonstrate. I was hesitant because it was my first time, but I totally nailed it! “Beautiful!” my teacher cooed. This was an Anusara class, so students applauded. My ego beamed. I tried to act humble (it’s the yogic thing to do, after all), but it was a proud moment.

So, when that photo popped up on my computer screen, I just had to do it. I hadn’t thought about this pose in ages, let alone practiced it–but I remembered my first triumphant experience. I am awesome at this pose, remember? So I didn’t need to warm up or anything. I just went for it.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out quite as I had planned. First, my front foot refused to lift away from the the floor. Then, my leg wouldn’t straighten. This can’t be right, I thought to myself. I’m good at this pose! My frustration soon turned to determination. I knew the intelligent thing to do was to back off and work on some poses that incorporated some (but not all) of the actions required to get into the pose. I persisted. I yanked. I forced. I grunted. Until… Ta-da! I had made something that looked similar to shape I saw on my computer screen (minus the blissful expression on her face, obviously, but nobody’s perfect). I was pleased. I collapsed on the floor for a moment before going on about my day.

I thought everything was fine until I went to pick my daughter later and noticed a deep throbbing pain in my right shoulder. Oops. I’m not sure what hurt worse: My shoulder or my ego when I had to admit to myself that I might not, in fact, be so awesome at Visvamitrasana after all.

After a couple days of rest, my shoulder is starting to feel normal again. I’m still sore, but it’s definitely a muscle soreness that I think will subside with a couple more days of rest. I know that I’m incredibly lucky that I didn’t cause more permanent damage. And, once again, I’ve learned a lesson about letting my ego lead my yoga practice. Sometimes I have to learn the same lesson over and over again. This is why we call it a practice, right?

What poses cause you to push just a little too hard? How do you keep your ego in check?