March 5, 2012

Egoism, Food & the Yoga Sutras. ~ Camella Nair

Photo: !unite

As part of her work connecting yoga and food, Camella Nair has created a 12 week course that pairs Patanjali’s yoga sutras with the everyday life activity of feeding the body. In this series for elephant journal, Camella provides readers with a short version of what she addresses more deeply in her course.

Part 6: Drg-darsana-saktyorekatmatevasmita


Egoism is a state of forgetfulness or ignorance, in which there is confusion between Spirit and the instruments of the mind stuff— Goswami Kriyananda

In the last sutra, we looked at our individual universe (mind and body) and its experiences or dramas, using Humpty Dumpty metaphorically. We fell into the earth realm to experience life and get back to know our primordial true nature of union, not separateness with the Divine.

Patanjali stated that Avidya or forgetfulness of one’s true nature is the cause of the obstacles to our enlightenment. Don’t we all have those scattered or “vata” moments in our life where we forget what we were supposed to be doing? I know I do. Usually, when I go into a store to buy a few things and end up leaving without what I went in for. But these are usually chores or something on our “honey do list” that may be necessary to function in the physical world harmoniously, but has little to do with the inner chore of making spiritual connection.

There is a veil between the physical day-to-day life and the inner stream of consciousness that is pervading all things. It is known as Maya and is often referred to as delusion.

Life experience is loud and very “in your face,” and by contrast, consciousness if soft and smooth and sits quietly waiting to be beckoned in to our awareness. It reminds me of my extensive travels around the world where I have seen many belly-dancing shows, where the dancers come onto the dance floor adorned with many veils which they peel off as the dance progresses.

Photo: Marek Polajajek

If she stood on one spot or just sat there doing nothing, the veils would not miraculously fall to the ground. A fakir (A man of Muslim origin that performs amazing feats of physical discipline and/or “magic” such as, eating glass and making things disappear) could not come in to the room and zap the veils away with his magical powers. Only she, with volitional intention can rent the veils that separate her from view the crowd that is eagerly waiting to see how beautiful she is. Her persona starts to become more recognizable to people as her physical form emerges in full view.

In the same way, as we begin to function in the world in relationship with people and things, we create a persona that we think is us.

There is a link between maya and the sense organs and the senses with which we would not be able to experience life on earth. The eyes, for example, allow us to see. The problem is that we identify our Self with those sense organs in such a distorted way that we think, “I look fat” or “I am depressed,” when it is not us as a state of pure consciousness at all.

But that is not an emotionally satisfying answer to someone who genuinely feels fat or depressed. And here is the thing, it never will be until we start to think differently and literally do something in order to think a different way. I can tell my teenage sons a million times to put the laundry into the basket but until they know on a deep level that is what they should do, they will continue to dump it behind the bathroom door when they take a shower.

This is the value of having a mystical technique, without which Shelly Trimer, a mystic and flame in the oral tradition of Kriya Yoga, said,” We would simply be lost.” Kriya, remember, is a volitional action that helps us to become enlightened. There are many, many techniques and this is great as we all have different things we like and don’t like, symbols that turn us on or off (recall the lemon symbol in lesson one).

Attractions and aversions will be covered in the next two lessons, but do you start to see how this jigsaw puzzle is starting to make sense now?

Let’s go back to the Sanskrit word for ego which is “asmita.” It comes from the root “asmi,” which means “I am.”

Asmita causes us to identify with our concept of whom and what we think we are, and is that which we see and have accumulated in life, including any accomplishments. According to my guru, George Burns (in the movie Oh God!), got it right. In explaining how he created the world he said:

The reason I put everyone here naked… I wasn’t trying to be cute. It’s just that with clothes there’s right away pockets, and pockets, you gotta put something in.

In the process of supposedly maturing and “finding” ourselves and our place in society, we become preoccupied with our self and how important we are. It makes us self-centered and we think, like a child, that the world is here to serve us. How selfish it is of us when we don’t exhale fully and give the plants and the trees what they need to sustain life. Carbon Dioxide!

Photo: Isafmedia

In my online cooking the yoga sutras course, the metaphor is yeast that can be used to make bread or not in when making flat breads, of which the world has many varieties. I demonstrate how to make and cook chapattis in the video lessons that talk about this particular sutra. Puffed up breads that use yeast rely on past actions, or the saving of a small piece of yeast which is then added to the new batch. Unleavened bread or flat bread is a symbol of breaking free from the past as well as making life simpler.

Leavened bread is not to be avoided however, as the “puffed up” or yeasted bread symbolizes the body of Christ rising. The ego, it is said is the gate keeper to Christ consciousness. Subjugate it somewhat by developing a healthy self-interest that is necessary even to achieve enlightenment.

A healthy sense of self means that we are comfortable being who we are, and learn to accept who we are, so that others will accept us. It can be difficult when people are worried about what others think about them and are told by the media what they need to look like, and what to eat, and which car to drive. Flat breads can be enjoyed with many international foods, and as we eat it, we can remind ourselves about developing a healthy sense of self.

The danger in not having a healthy sense of self is seen in people harming themselves and becoming isolated, depressed and dependent on other people.

Instead of focusing on how most of us have issues with the ego which is typical in most commentaries of this sutra, let’s try to find three practical ways that we can help to develop a healthy sense of self. It is typically the exhale that is going to be deficient or”sticky” in most people unless they are breathing properly. Yoga asana and pranayama can be a great help here with addressing this issue along with a sane lifestyle.

  1. As a yoga teacher, I see the hamstrings as being the most egocentric area in a pose, especially in an asana like down dog. Why do people insist on keeping the legs straight when they have lost the capacity to breathe properly in the pose? Try to refine this pose if you are practicing it, and see how much length you can sustain in the body. It may be wise to ask your yoga teacher to help you, but ideally you will need to “feel” that you have maximized your body length for yourself, and not just depend on the external pose or the teacher’s observations.
  2. Try to become less selfish in areas that may be difficult. It may be something like learning to put yourself and your ideas in second place, opening the door for someone, or giving up your last cookie. That is not the end of the assignment. Do all of the above willingly and without expecting anything in return, even a thank you. That is not the end of the assignment. Watch your mind through this process.
  3. Consider chanting something repetitively for a few minutes whenever you can. The manta OM or AUM is highly potent and can help to clear the mind very effectively. I could say start chanting as soon as you sense that your mind is getting into a glorification of the ego mode, but that is not easy. It is much easier to chant it just because it will help to develop a new groove within the mind in time that is less selfish.

We could be really picky and spend ages and ages on talking about this sutra and what it means, but I am a believer in making positive changes in our lives and not just hitting ourselves with a big stick. Don’t we get enough of that in the school of “hard knocks”?

Take a look at the 3 suggestions above and if it makes sense really make a concerted effort to do the kriya (or conscious, volitional engaged, spiritual action) to whatever you can to improve in these areas. If it does not make sense, then just enjoy what you are doing and be happy in the pursuit of that.

So, egoism stems from forgetfulness and is something that Patanjali says we need to remove in order to pursue enlightenment.

Perhaps you can even consider thinking about egoism when you eat leavened (puffed up ) or unleavened bread. (flat bread) For most of us, the connection between the intellectual and the practical application of the sutras in our daily lives can really help us embody the teachings.



Prepared by Lorin Arnold / Edited by Brianna Bemel

Camella Nair is an ordained Swami in the Kriya Yoga tradition and has been practicing yoga since she was 17. She has written two books on yoga as well as an online course on the yoga sutras which is part philosophy and part cooking (http://www.cookingtheyogasutras.com/). She lives with her two teenage sons in Northern California. She can be reached via email at [email protected].

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