Experts in Buddhist teaching see the self as an illusion. Supporters of this religion preach a selfless world view, and everyone is encouraged to renounce their individual desires, while suggesting that we should distance ourselves from self-concern.
Have you ever tried yoga or meditation? Millions of people across the world engage themselves in these practices with the only goal to advance this perspective.
According to a recent psychological study, this approach is about to be denied. Wonder why? Researchers believe that contemporary meditation and yoga have the power to inflate one’s ego.
The paper was first published online by the University of Southampton. The results will be published in the journal Psychological Science.
Researchers now say it’s wrong to think that meditation can help you overcome your ego conflicts. That’s what US psychologist William James thinks.
His argument suggests that the practice of any skill can actually breed the sense of self-enhancement. That’s how psychologists call the inflated self-regard.
This argument was already supported by evidence, and a group of researchers at the University Mannheim in Germany decided to go a bit further. They wee willing to test this argument in terms of yoga and meditation.
Researchers followed 93 students, and checked their sense of self-enhancement for 15 weeks using several measures. First, they asked participants to compare themselves to the average yoga student in the class in order to assess their level of self-enhancement.
If by any chance you didn’t know it, a comparison to the average is a way of measuring a person’s self-enhancement. Participants were also asked to complete an inventory based on their narcissistic tendencies.
They were actually asked to rate phrases like “I will be well-known for the good deeds I will have done” in terms of the way they apply to them.
Experts then administered the good old self-esteem scale, and participants were asked over statements like “At the moment, I have high self-esteem.”
The immediate evaluation after every yoga class showed that participants have high self-enhancement, as confirmed by all thee measures. That wasn’t the case in evaluations conducted in days when participants didn’t do any yoga.
Another similar study confirmed that meditation is as similar as yoga when it comes to self-enhancement. Researchers gathered a group of 162 people using Facebook groups focused on meditation.
Each and every participant was asked to evaluate themselves in terms of statements like “In comparison to the average participant of this study, I am free from bias.”
According to the results, participant had high self-enhancement right after their meditation practice, which wasn’t the case with the evaluation they did prior their practice.
Participants’ well-being was evaluated with two measures – the satisfaction with life scale and the eudemonic well-being measure.
These evaluate the satisfaction with autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth/development, positive relations with other people, life goals/purposes, and self-acceptance.
Researchers also found that the well-being grew along with the self-enhancement, meaning that the self-enhancement is connected with the higher level of well-being obtained through meditation.
In other words, yoga and meditation don’t do what Buddhist followers say, as noted by study authors. “Ego-queting is a central element of yoga philosophy and Buddhism alike. That element, and its presumed implications, require serious rethinking.
Moreover, ego-quieting is often called upon to explain mind-body practices’ well-being benefits. In contrast, we observed that mind-body practices boost self-enhancement and this boost -- in turn -- elevates well-being,” they explain.
However, there is an alternative view. Could participants do their meditation and yoga wrong? The groups of participants were based in Germany, and academics believe that western practitioners of Buddhism can’t practice with eyes towards the selflessness that is supposed to characterize the goals of their efforts.
Although yoga and meditation were first performed as a way to soothe the ego, non-Buddhist practitioners engage in these activities with eyes to self-improvement and soothing personal anxieties.
Meditation practice can be narcissistic, as noted by Buddhist writer Lewis Richmond in The Huffington Post.
“The act of sitting in silence, eyes closed or facing a wall, attention focused on the inner landscape of breath, body, and mental activity, could at least be characterized as self-absorbed,” he wrote.
Those who do meditation with a self-centered perspective will actually become more self-interested.
Is it surprising that yoga has the power to feed and not diminish the ego? This shouldn’t be a surprise to some individuals. The aforementioned psychological study didn’t check the possibility that these Buddhist teachings influence the ego boost.
Yoga can’t dissolve your ego on its own, but a single psychological study can’t invalidate thousands of years of Buddhist power and teaching.