Working Out Your Ego

31 May

I know that many of the readers here are part of the fitness community, so I thought I’d blog today on a topic that’s come into the forefront for me lately:  What role does your EGO play in your workout?

As I’ve mentioned in prior posts, I’ve been taking a lot of  yoga classes lately.   Specifically Vinyasa flow, but I’ve also had experience with Bikram and other types of yoga.   Lately, I’ve heard many instructors say to let go of your ego in your yoga practice.   In other words, focus less on being perfect and more on what is perfect for you.   Focus less on pleasing the teacher.   Focus less on what everyone around you is doing and how you compare to them.

The classes I’ve been taking are considered all-level, and that’s a fair statement.   Folks are definitely working at their own level.  But I can’t help but notice the 4 people right next to me doing some crazy arm balance or inversion while I’m hanging out in downward facing dog.  And guess what?   It arouses my ego and I immediately want to be doing it with them (or at least going home to practice so that I don’t fall on my face in front of everyone).   Helloooooo ego!

By nature I’m type A (some call me A+), and I don’t like to settle for average in anything I do.   So how do I reconcile this with practicing yoga?   I’ve been in the dance and fitness communities most of my life, and we strive for perfection, or at least continuous improvement.   Last night I taught a BODYPUMP class (group-based barbell training, for those of you not in the know) and I came home thinking how it’s our ego that pushes us to lift more weight, finish each rep and generally not phone-in the workout.

But can ego also harm our workouts?   Too much ego can result in injury, sure.  But I’m looking at this from another viewpoint.   In some of the classes I’ve observed, the ego is what is hindering us from achieving our goals.   The gym (and yes, even the yoga studio) is a very image conscious environment.  Just take a look at the ocean of Lululemon clothing (guilty as charged!!!) and the hair and makeup and spray tans.   I think the ego is causing us to NOT work as hard.   No one wants to fail in front of others.   God forbid we sweat too much.  Women don’t want to lift more weights than those around them (OMG… I might bulk up!!!  WRONG).   Dudes pile on the weights for chest and biceps, but fail to push themselves in squats and lunges because guess what… chicks only notice how big my chest and arms are (again… WRONG… I’m talking to you Mr. Chicken Legs).

Instead of listening to my ego, I’m definitely going to try to focus more on listening in all my classes.  Listening to the instructor’s directions and teachings.  Listening to my body.  How am I feeling today?   Everyday is different in the studio, and no workout is the same.   Confession… I do yoga for the workout.  Not for the spiritual experience.  Not to relax or de-stress, though I appreciate those benefits that come along.   But for my hour in class, I want to start giving myself a break.   It’s hard to be “on” all the time.   Sure, I’ll continue to work hard, but as yogi gurus will remind you, it’s often the INTENTION that gets you to your goal.   Not the end result.

So here’s my challenge:  EGO OUT! Get rid of it. Bow your head in humility, ignore the other people, they don’t count, you do.

What role does your ego play in your workout?  Is it aiding or slowing your progress?   Or are you just there for the experience?

Discuss!   Comment!!

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7 Responses to “Working Out Your Ego”

  1. Cailin Delaney May 31, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    God i love following your posts!!! I know when I am teaching a class i’m a lot EGO and a lot coach. I want to lift more than they do and impress them but also knowing i have to show them what can happen if you commit to this workout and give your all. Now when i go to seal team classes for my own workouts i still think that i want to impress the instructors with perfect form and how many i do however i have also learned that it takes everyone to succeed and only 1 person to make the team fail. It has definitely helped me understand that i can only bring my best and hope that everyone around me will do the same allowing the team to complete the task. Humility is definitely some that i learn when taking seal team classes.

    Question for “EGO OUT” is how do you subdue the inner athlete or competitor in you?

    • danielledoesdallas June 5, 2012 at 10:51 am #

      Good question, Cailin! I really liked what Karolyn commented below about your workout/practice being more about gratitude than ambition. I subbed a Pump class yesterday and had several new people in class. As soon as I met the new folks and felt their trepidation, I became less focused on what the class thought about me as an instructor and instead on how I could use my skills and experience to help them get the best experience possible from the class. Turns out, as I was leaving I got the best reviews on my class from the front desk and lots of smiles, and that brought me more joy than impressing them with how much weight I lifted or how good my technique or coaching was. I think personal ambition is critical for long-term goals and achievements, but have to remember that as instructors we’re there for them, not us.

  2. Karolyn June 1, 2012 at 5:58 am #

    Could not agree more. A yoga instructor once said to our class: “Let your practice be more about gratitude than ambition.” It changed not only the way I look at yoga, but at life. A beautiful and freeing sentiment, very much aligned with getting the ego out.

    • danielledoesdallas June 5, 2012 at 10:53 am #

      What a wonderful reflection, Karolyn. I went to yoga practice last Friday with this concept in mind and it really changed the way I felt about the class. I’m going to try out an “Advanced” class today and I think it that sentiment will be more important than ever.

      • Karolyn June 6, 2012 at 6:02 am #

        It’s amazing how such a small thing can make such a big difference. :)

  3. Sarah R Bagley (@sarah_rosemary) June 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    I love this post, Danielle. As a new instructor, I get all caught up in “proving myself.” But I found that when I tried too hard to prove myself, the worse I did. And when I stopped letting the workout be about me and about leading the class through a kick butt workout safely, I did a lot better. Trying to “be the best” and prove myself also sucked all the joy out of teaching. I do better when I don’t make it all about me and instead of have fun :)

    • danielledoesdallas June 12, 2012 at 11:05 am #

      Sarah, congrats on becoming an instructor! I know you will be fantastic. What program are you teaching? I’m glad my thoughts resonated with you and that you remember them no matter how far you go in your journey. It’s our job to be there for our members! Can’t wait to hear more about your experience. :)

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