Mind & Body

Meditation and Yoga Might Just Inflate Your Ego, According to a Study

If you practice meditation, you know how healing it can be. As you sit with your eyes closed in a dark room, you can just feel the stresses of the day melting away. You are so far beyond it all now. You've zenned out to the stars. Why, you've nearly transcended your human body, and it's really just graciousness that keeps you here on Earth instead of exploring the astral plane. Whoa — slow down. Your no-ego practice might be having the opposite effect.

Don't Let It Yoga to Your Head

Yoga and meditation might have a reputation for reining in your ego and bringing you down to Earth, but they often have the exact opposite effect. That's according to a new study released by the University of Southampton and set to be published in the journal Psychological Science. When the researchers assessed the self-esteem and narcissism levels of a group of German yoga practitioners, they found that self-centeredness actually peaked right after a session.

The main thrust of the study was to see whether yoga and meditation led to effects of self-enhancement: that is, the habits of thinking very highly of yourself, feeling overly satisfied in the good you're doing, and of generally seeing yourself as a gift to the world. The researchers gathered their data via three tests. The first measured the 93 yoga students' self-enhancement scores directly by asking how they believed they compared to the average person (not everyone can be better than average, after all). The second test measured narcissistic personality traits, asking participants to judge the accuracy of statements like "In the future I will be well-known for solving the world's problems." The final test asked them directly about their self-esteem. When they took the same tests an hour after yoga class, they demonstrated higher self-enhancement in all three tests than when they hadn't done yoga in 24 hours.

Self Meditation

In the second part of the study, the researchers found that a very similar picture arose in German meditation practitioners when they were asked about the accuracy of statements like "In comparison to the average participant of this study, I am free from bias." In the paper, the researchers suggest that this is evidence that the spiritual practices associated with yoga and Buddhism aren't as effective as their proponents suggest.

But as Olivia Goldhill at Quartz points out, the German yogis and meditators may not have been practicing in the correct, ego-erasing way. Many experts and academics have expressed a belief that meditation in the Western world inappropriately centers the self instead of transcending it. And as Buddhist teacher and writer Lewis Richmond writes in Huffington Post, "Perhaps today's Western practitioners leap a bit too quickly into the innerness of meditation without a thorough grounding in all the other spokes of the [Eight-Fold] Path."

Written by Reuben Westmaas July 12, 2018

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