Buddhism teaches that ‘the self’ is illusionary. Buddhist religion preaches a selfless view of the world and it encourages its followers to give up their desires and focus their attention on distancing themselves from any kind of self-concern. That’s why many people around the globe practice meditation and yoga in order to practice this doctrine.
However, a recent psychological study found that people who meditate and do yoga have actually a problem with their big egos.
The researchers behind the study think that the inflated egos come from the fact that with any practice of a certain skill, the sense of self-enhancement grows stronger and so does the ego.
A team of researchers from University Mannheim in Germany decided to test the psychological results of practicing meditation and yoga. For that purpose, they recruited 93 yoga students and they evaluated their sense of self-enhancement regularly over a period of 15 weeks.
The students were first asked to assess themselves and how they stand in comparison to other yoga students in their class. Second, they completed a questionnaire that focused to discover whether the responder has narcissistic tendencies. And finally, they were asked to tell how high they stand on a self-esteem scale by whether they agree with statements like: “My self-esteem is very high right now.”
The results showed that those students who were evaluated an hour after their yoga class showed higher levels of self-enhancement as opposed to those students who hadn’t done yoga in the last 24 hours.
A study done on meditation who included 162 participants who meditated regularly, found that meditation has very similar impacts on people’s self-enhancement as yoga does.
The results showed that those participants who meditated an hour before the evaluation had higher self-enhancement than those who hadn’t meditated for 24 hours.
Researchers were also evaluating the well-being of the participants using the eudemonic well-being measure and the satisfaction with life measure scale. The eudemonic well-being measure scale evaluates a person’s satisfaction with personal growth, autonomy, self-acceptance, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and positive relationships with other people.
The researchers found that there is a positive correlation between self-enhancement and the great sense of well-being that people got from meditation.
All these findings suggest that Buddhists might be wrong when it comes to their belief that by practicing yoga and meditation, they will lose the ego, or “the self.”
“Ego-quieting is a central element of yoga philosophy and Buddhism alike. That element and its presumed implications require serious rethinking,” they write. “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.”
According to the Buddhist writer Lewis Richmond, meditation is a narcissistic practice. “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,” says he.
The findings that yoga feeds instead of destroying the ego are surprising, but you should take them with a grain of salt. After all, one psychological study can’t diminish thousands of years of Buddhist practice and teaching.