Teaching of the Month. Asmita - I-am-ness

Lonely. Separate. Disconnected. This is the feeling that is associated with the concept of Asmita. The ancient Sage Patanjali tells us that this feeling leads us to identify with the body, mind and possessions and keeps us apart from others. We begin to identify ourselves with our ego. We can create a self-image of ourselves that we believe is us, but it is not us. Yoga teaches us that the self is different from the ego. This self-image can contain both external (I am poor) or internal (I am a bad person) false projections.

In Indian philosophy, the true nature of man consists of a divine kernel, which is in itself pure and infinite. This true nature is called Atman, the world-soul, which all living beings share and which is the source of life.

As we experience life, we begin the journey through the senses - the eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin - and this sensory world begins to drag us away from our true nature. We begin to strive for more of what brings us pleasure - material things, pleasurable acts and thoughts. We begin to confuse this 'self' (really EGO) as the true self. In this ignorance we can easily lose our anchor and our foundation.

We can see Asmita acted out every day in ourselves, in our families, in our colleague, even in our studios. When people purport themselves to be something other than what they are, this is Asmita. They can either pump themselves up, or put themselves down. A false view of self.

Yoga teaches us that one of the ways in which to overcome Asmita is in the act of generous sharing. To give rather than to strive to acquire. What better month of the year - February - than to give from the heart?! The point isn't so much what we give or how much we give...the point is that we loose our habit of clinging - and acquiring. We reverse the process!

Yoga teaches us that we are not here on this planet to simply please ourselves. We are not meant to live in a vacuum. We are part of a much larger community. Tibetan Buddhism teaches us that we are here to ease the suffering of others. One of the ways that we can do this is by giving. At our studio during the month of February, students are asked to take part in a self-challenge of giving a gift every day of this month. More information on this wonderful practice can be had in Cami Walker's book entitled "29 Gifts. How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life."

Gifts need not be large and may be made to anyone - family, friend or a stranger - a simple smile, giving a dollar to a street person, holding the door for someone. Preparation of food, dusting furniture, washing dishes can all selfless acts of giving - when viewed in that way. Your full attention to someone while really listening to them is perhaps the most precious gift that you can give.

To participate in the self-challenge in a more formal way, please download the tracking form (Word, 1.5 Mb) which will allow you to note down what you freely gave away each day, and then to reflect on the feeling that giving engenders inside you. At the end of the month, you may wish to reflect on, and integrate the teachings of this practice. No one will see this form except for you!

Questions to ask at the end of the month:

  • What have I learned about myself as a result of this month-long practice?
  • What have I learned about others?
  • Is there a separation between the one who gives and the one who receives?
  • Is it possible to find the place where there is no sense of giver, receiver, or gift, but simply of giving and loving?

by Maureen Rae, RN, E-RYT