Tag Archives: Freud

Lost in translation: the Eastern ego versus the Western ego


When we use the word “ego” in the West, we automatically think of the quality of a boorish person who muscles his/her way around without much regard to others. We also attribute the ego as having a size like “he has a HUGE ego.” Some even value this quality in people and want to have a large and “healthy” ego. This is only one definition of the word.

While studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it becomes evident that the ancient writer’s definition of the ego is very different than the one we use in the West. To clear up the definitions of this word, I will give both the definitions used in psychology and in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Sigmund Freud, who is the father of psychoanalysis, used the term das ich which is translated to “ego” to describe the mind’s attempt to balance the superego and the id.

According to Freud, the “superego” is our moral blueprint that says “thou shall and thou shan’t.” When you say to yourself, “I would like that diamond, but it would be illegal to steal it,” that is an example of your superego guiding your behavior.

The “id” is the impulse that wants you to have the diamond no matter what the consequences. From this definition, it would be incorrect to label the obnoxious person as having a big ego, but rather an “unchecked id.”

The “ego” is the mind’s ability to meet the demands of the id, while adhering to the superego’s integrity. A healthy egoic resolution to the diamond scenario would be to purchase it on a payment plan, or justify not buying it because it is outside one’s budget.

freud ego

Patanjali’s definition of “ego” is very different than that of Freud. In Sanskrit, ego is translated from the word ahamkara which roughly translates to “the I maker.” This “ego” definition refers to one’s sense of self. For example “I am Hispanic, I am male, I have a Ph.D in Astrophysics.” It is how we identify ourselves to make sense to others. It is part of the three aspects of the citta (mind-stuffs) which are manas (mind) and buddhi (intelligence) in addition to ahamkara.

The wrinkle in the plot is that this ahamkara or “I maker” confuses us into strongly identifying ourselves into something we are not. It is listed as a vrtti in Pantajali’s text which means it is something that modifies our mind into thinking it is something that is not part of our true essence. Our “ego” in the Eastern terminology likes to attach itself to things. We want to have good fame and good fortune and have people recognize us for those things. A good way to see your ahamkara is to feel slighted at something and then see what it is that makes you feel so important. “You can’t do that to me, I am the president of the PTA!”


Who we identify with

Through the correct practice of yoga, we learn to psychologically shave off those parts of us that our “I maker” attaches to until we are shaved down to nothing. It is a sobering thought to be nothing, but according to Patanjali, it is the point where true liberation begins. That is why yoga is an extremely non-Western practice. Most everything about the West in modern times is about ego attainment and attachment. Just watch 10 minutes of commercial television to see this clearly.


Who we really are

This is just one word of many that does not translate well into English from Sanskrit. The other aspect of Sanskrit is the language’s vibrational qualities that do not have any translation, but add to the “feel” of the language on a superficial level, and add greater effects for the seasoned practitioner on deeper levels.

Yoga vs. Psychology or Yoga as a Psychology?


Today I passed my National Counselors Exam, the last step I needed to become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. That process took a good part of a year after receiving hundreds of hours of supervision. This test required me to know all the major psychology theories from psychologists like Freud, Perls, Rogers, Skinner, and Ellis. It required me to know statistics and testing design. It also required me to know about group counseling dynamics, career and lifespan developmental theory. There was a nice dosage of ethics questions in there too.

Just about six months ago, I passed my Introductory II certification for Iyengar yoga. Because I was dumb enough to work on both certifications simultaneously, it made me reflect many times on which one is more difficult. Both certifications require one to be current in their field and adapt to constantly evolving changes. Both certifications require a code of ethics that require one to give beyond what is asked of them.

To reframe the question of which one is harder, what would happen if I just stopped studying for my psychology test? I would probably still be a good mental health counselor and may require an occasional refresher course to get my CE credits. What would happen if I stopped doing or teaching yoga? I would get jettisoned back to square one in no time fast! So yoga is, gulp, much harder than Psychology.

About 10 years ago, I was accepted into a Psy.D. program. After careful evaluation, I opted out of the program as I had my Masters in Psychology and could focus more on my ultimate goal of using yoga as an adjunct therapy for anxiety and depression instead of spending another 5 years in school. Ten years later, I have conducted many groups with clients using yoga as a means to decrease anxiety. In one Psycho-Social-Rehabilitation (PSR) group with clients who had severe mental illness to the point where they were hearing voices, doing standing poses greatly relieved their symptoms.

In graduate school, I wrote many papers on yoga as an legitimate theoretical orientation (like psychoanalysis or behaviorism). The more I practice, the more I believe that yoga transcends many of the contemporary psychologies. The path of yoga directs the practitioner upwards toward self actualization (much like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model). Many contemporary psychologies focus on client pathology. Freud pretty much reduced humans to a spring loaded sexual impulse just ready to pounce on whatever got in the ego’s way. He has many great points, but yoga seems to easily trump them with practice and detachment. I anticipate much rebuttal from practicing psychologists who will have valid points refuting my claim. Before they pounce, I just ask them to practice yoga daily 2 hours daily for one month.