Researchers recruited 93 yoga students and evaluated their sense of self-enhancement over 15 weeks through a series of assessments, including asking them how they compared to other yoga students in their class, rating their narcissistic tendencies, and measuring their self-esteem with such statements as, "At the moment, I have high self-esteem."
Students were found to have improved self-enhancement after a yoga class compared to when they hadn't attended a yoga class within 24 hours.
In another study 162 people who were devoted to meditation were recruited for similar evaluations, and, ultimately, were found that those who practiced meditation had the same sense of "self-enhancement" in the hour following meditation than when they hadn’t meditated for 24 hours.
Researchers noted that the tenet of Buddhism's meditation practice -- that one overcomes the ego by practicing meditation and yoga -- actually conflicts with U.S. psychologist William James’s argument that practicing any skill breeds a sense of a heightened sense of self-regard.
So, basically, even if you're practicing yoga and meditation for all the "right" unselfish reasons, you're still going to leave your mat feeling pretty satisfied with yourself, which kind of undoes why you started in the first place. Right?
"From a yoga instructor’s perspective, I find this article to be in a way, missing the point," Tracee Dolan, a yoga instructor on staff at Privé-Swiss Fitness, an award-winning boutique fitness studio in Connecticut, tells Organic Authority. "It appears to be taking a good thing (the documented beneficial results of a meditation practice) and turning it into a negative. I never went to yoga to renounce physical desires; I went to feel good and to learn about meditation. I show up and I practice; that’s what I teach my students. It’s an evolving practice that changes each time."
And, of course, the "why" behind attending yoga, including what you seek to receive from the practice is dependent on the individual.
"As with most aspects of human psychology, there is no 'one' truth when it comes to whether or not meditation and yoga boost or reduce ego. As a clinical psychologist, meditation leader, yoga teacher, and long-time yogi, I have noticed that the effects of activities such as meditation and yoga depend on the individual," Dr. Carla Marie Manly tells Organic Authority. "Although many practices such as yoga and meditation were originally intended to create selflessness, inner peace, and balance, many such practices have morphed away from their original forms. Whether looking at yoga or meditation, there is no singular 'right' way to practice."
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Dolan agrees. "There are many ever changing aspects to a personal yoga and meditation practice, it’s not the same thing every time. The intention may not as clear cut as a desire to 'separate from the self.' The intention may be a desire to detach from negative chatter of the mind, or destructive self-talk."
Now with yoga taking many forms -- from everything to paddle board yoga to acroyoga -- there is a new perspective on what it means to be a yogi. Is one more at risk of becoming an "egomaniac" if they practice it to achieve sculpted arms and sense of confidence over one who seeks to find inner peace? Possibly, according to Dr. Manly. But it all has to do with the individual and your intention behind your practice.
"When we look at how the ego is affected by any practice, the intention of the practice, is very important," Dr. Manly says. "If one individual is meditating to 'step back' from the ego and become more selfless and detached, then the result will likely be an increased sense of selflessness over time. If another person is meditating to focus on increasing personal joy or healing, it is likely that the attention to the self will serve to create more ego."
In terms of yoga, she says, "If an individual’s yoga practice is intended to create inner-regulation, balance, healthfulness, and detachment from the busy mind, then a sense of selflessness may develop over time. However, many individuals practice yoga for a wide variety of other reasons. Others may practice for the exercise benefits--to stay fit or hone muscles. Some enjoy the fun of yoga, from wearing attractive yoga clothes to creating friendships within the yoga group. Although all of these (and many more) are valid reasons for practicing yoga, those who fall into these latter categories are more likely to experience an increase in ego."
She adds, "Overall, the intention, needs, and personality of the individual play key roles in determining whether certain practices will reduce or increase ego."
At the end of the day, if you're committing to a practice of yoga and meditation and it helps you gain a better understanding and acceptance of yourself, is that really such a bad thing?
"Yoga in the western world has evolved into many things. I’m of the school of thought of 'whatever gets people to their mat,' whether they’re there for a workout or an attempt at moving meditation, it works and I’ve yet to find a person who regrets going to yoga," says Dolan. "To expect every meditation student to be selfless and desire free is only one strict interpretation, I don’t come across many students even looking for those results. I think most people just want to feel good."
"Meditation can be many things," she continues. "It can be the practice of being in the moment, focusing on the breath, yoga postures or stillness. If the after effects of a meditation practice are self-enhancing, positive feelings of well-being- I don’t see how that is a failure in any way. In my eyes: it’s a success."
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