The three Malas

Posted by on May 7, 2012 | 0 comments

Anava Mala

I was recently thinking about a very important teaching in yoga called The Three Malas, which are the three veils that prevent us from seeing our true nature, our true selves. I first learned about The Three Malas in my yoga teacher training at Ahimsa Yoga, and thought I would spend the next three weeks focusing on each one separately. The first of the Malas is the Anava Mala, which is the veil that disconnects us from our true selves, resulting in low self-esteem, insecurity, and preoccupation with self.

Our yoga practice can be a great forum for developing a greater sense of self, and a greater sense of self-worth and self-esteem. In my psychotherapy practice, I often inform clients about yoga as a self-care practice, as a means to get to know themselves and to reconnect with their physical bodies. There is a reason why so many organizations have included yoga into their therapy practices with survivors of sexual abuse, eating disorders, substance abuse and trauma. Joanna Morrison, a great friend and true inspiration, established “Sangha Of Hope”, an organization that brings yoga to survivors of sexual abuse (and street workers) to help them to reconnect with themselves and their bodies. Through the practice of yoga, we can develop a greater sense of self, and more confidence in ourselves.

Essentially, when we are trapped under the Anava mala, we forget our “true selves”, we become blind to our greatness and what we have to offer. We often develop a sense of isolation and loneliness, which in turn creates a pre-occupation with ourselves. When we suffer with low self-esteem, depression, shame, insecurity, etc…, we become trapped within a bubble and cannot see beyond our own experiences. Everything becomes about “us”, and we forget the impact that we have on our own lives and the lives of those around us. We often end up doing things that are unlike us, such as cheating, lying, and hurting others, which has an obvious downward spiraling effect.

The first step to removing this veil is to ACKNOWLEDGE our low self-esteem and our insecurities. We must first develop awareness in order to promote change. At one point in my life, I was that girl who looked in the mirror and never liked what she saw. I was that girl who did ANYTHING to get attention, to be ACCEPTED, to feel WORTHY… I didn’t know who I was, or how to feel good about myself without getting reinforcement from others. I felt so out of control and looked for means to gain control in my life. I became a perfectionist- which was seen especially in my relationship with academia and food. Yoga has enabled me to find self-awareness and begin to find a sense of self-worth. In my asana practice, I am grateful for my physical body that enables me to enjoy the vigor of the practice, but I aim to connect with myself on a deeper level – to find that place within me where I feel “raw”, “pure” and “innocent” – to find the “me” that is untouched by the life experiences I have had so far – the “me” that is real. Essentially, this is the “me” that is not vying for attention, seeking approval, or trying to be someone that I am not – it is the “me” who is simple, at ease, and divine. This is a work in progress, as I often say in these posts.

I had a yoga practice this morning with JP Tamblyn-Sabo at Ahimsa Yoga, who talked about the need to connect to our true selves through personal practice. He informed us that many texts provide theoretical knowledge with regard to the “self” and “divinity”, but that personal practice (through yoga) is key to truly understanding their meaning. JP instructed us to use our inhalations to delve into core of our true selves, and our exhalations to pause there and experience it. This was the first time in a long time that I came in contact with my “purity” – In that moment, I truly loved myself. It was SO good that when he was guiding us out of Savasana, I refused to move, longing to hold on to the sensations I was experiencing. I think we so often forget to see the “divine” – the good, the pure, the oneness with others – in ourselves, and get wrapped up in all the things about ourselves that we wish we could change. Through yoga practice, both on and off the mat, we can unveil our “blindness” and learn to appreciate ourselves for who we truly are, instead of longing to be someone different.

My thoughts for the day. Have a great one.


Maiya Mala

Last week, I focused on the first of the three Malas, the Anava Mala. These Malas are the veils that prevent us from seeing our true selves, our true beings. This week, I will be focusing on the second Mala, the Maiya Mala, which is the veil that leads to a preoccupation with what others think of us. This second veil disables us from seeing ourselves as united with others, and forces us to dwell in separation and comparison.

When we are trapped under the Maiya Mala, the focus is on creating a representation of ourselves that others will validate, and approve of – in the end, forgetting who we really are and all of our individual strengths. The Maiya Mala leads us to compare ourselves to others as a means of criticizing and judging ourselves. How many times in a yoga class, do you see the person next to you in Natarajasana (Dancer’s Pose) with their leg raised high and – as you struggle to balance in the pose – you feel ashamed and inadequate? We have ALL been there. There will always be a large range in the bodies and levels of the students in any given yoga class. We can choose to see this diversity in two ways: We can either compare ourselves to the bodies in the room and create self-judgment, OR we can appreciate the beauty of the variety and recognize the strengths of our own body. There is a wonderful opportunity for developing a sense of connectivity and oneness in a yoga class. Active yoga practices, essentially, consist of a group of people coming together, for one reason or another, to find something MORE…However, we often destroy this with the need to compare, to judge – the “me against the world” syndrome.

This focus on creating “representations” of ourselves for others can clearly be seen in the early stages of intimate relationships. As we try to find that “special someone”, we show our most perfect selves – striving to prove to our dates that we are worthy of love, that we are great, that we have it all together, that we are better than the other men/women out there. The reality is that we DO make mistakes, we DO have flaws, we DO burp and we DO get pimples! And ALL of this is ok. My family always taught me that people will learn to love you FOR your flaws, as those are the things that make you unique and endearing. So why do we constantly feel the need to show a different version of ourselves, as though our true “selves” were insufficient or damaged? Clouded by the Maiya Mala, we often continue, as relationships progress, to compare ourselves to all of the other men/women out there who we feel our partners might prefer over us.

Under the Maiya Mala, we are in constant “comparison mode”, and we lose a sense of connection with others. Trapped under this veil, we feel isolated and alone. We end up feeling judged by others, feeling inferior to others (yes, that’s back to the first Mala, the Anava Mala – feeling of worthlessness, low self esteem), and feeling alone. We have been socially conditioned to compare ourselves from the time we were first able to decipher “difference.” Whose toys are ‘cooler’? Whose grades are better? Who has better looks? Who has more talent? This incessant comparison of ourselves to others then leads to competition as we battle with one another for opportunities and jobs. Who has the better job? Who has the nicer car? Who has the ‘happiest’ family? Who has the better life? Trapped under the Maiya Mala, a sense of resentment builds within us for those who we feel have “more” than us, and a feeling that we are being judged for not having “enough”– all this creating a strong divide between ourselves and those around us. As a result, we sometimes feel the need to ‘act the part’ of the happy, successful and super flexible individual, despite what we might be experiencing internally.

The Maiya Mala makes me think about the concept of VULNERABILITY. This word means many different things to many people; for me, vulnerability is associated with openness, genuineness, acknowledgement of one’s strengths and limitations, and truthfulness with oneself. In our society, we seem to associate such a negative connotation with this word. Why? Because we feel that we need to be STRONG, and that being vulnerable means being WEAK. The truth of the matter is that the strongest people ARE vulnerable. I often ask my psychotherapy clients – who feel ashamed for having to come to seek therapy – whether it takes more strength for them to actually come to therapy and be emotionally open (and hence being vulnerable), or to continue to live their lives unhappily on auto-pilot. All of the answers are the same: It takes much more strength and effort to come to therapy and, thus, to be vulnerable. Vulnerability brings genuineness and substance to an individual. It is vulnerability that enables people to find a sense of understanding, empathy and connection with one another.

I have spent the majority of my life struggling with my worries of how others perceive me, and comparing myself to others – never quite feeling good enough about myself. Like many people in my situation, I was always left with a feeling of loneliness and isolation, and a longing to be close and connected with others. I am learning to be proud of who I am, of what I can offer, and of my vulnerability with others. My goal in life is to be true to myself, to spend more time connecting with others and less time comparing myself to them. Fighting the forces of the Maiya Mala!!! My thoughts for the day. Have a great one!


Karma Mala

I spent the last two weeks discussing the first two of the three Malas- The Anava Mala and the Maiya Mala. These Malas are the veils that shield us from seeing our true Selves, and from being true to ourselves. Today, I will be talking about the third of the Malas – the Karma Mala – which is the veil that creates a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that we have no power to act, and a belief that our self worth is based on what we accomplish.

From the time we are born, we are taught to “do” – to get good grades, do chores, accomplish good deeds, and – most importantly – be successful! We are taught to set our expectations so high so that we are always working toward “something” – we inevitably become trapped in that perfectionist mentality. However, the truth of the matter is that we most often learn to set that bar so high so that we can never reach it – creating within us a sense of ongoing failure and inadequacy. We become overwhelmed with all that we have to accomplish and feel fearful, powerless and anxious. It makes perfect sense why we would want to set that bar so high, right? It will keep us motivated and keep us “doing”!!! But the reality is that if we do not set feasible and attainable goals for ourselves, we will most often have a sense of failure. Our attempts to motivate ourselves most often to not help us to find a true sense of Self, but instead take us away from it, as we feel inadequate and unaccomplished. Through my years as a psychotherapist, it has become more and more evident to me that individuals’ sense of Self is based – for the most part – on what they attain and accomplish.

I did my undergraduate degree at Queen’s University. The reason I mention this is because there is a longstanding joke that when you meet a graduate from Queen’s University, the first question he/she will ask you is, “What do you do?”…Not, “How are you?” or “Where did you get your great shirt?”…Nope, what REALLY matters is “What do you do?” Of course, this is just poking fun at us Queen’s graduates, but there is truth to this and it applies to everyone, Queen’s graduate or not. Most of the time when we meet someone, the first question in the conversation is, “What do you do?” We associate a person’s Self with what they do for a living, with what they accomplish, with their success. Now for many, this question brings feelings of self worth as they can answer, “I am a doctor” or “I started a foundation” or whatever else they might be able to share. However, for many of us, the basic question, “What do you do?” creates a feeling of shame, of isolation, of inadequacy – as we might not feel that we have yet reached those high goals we have set for ourselves.

We seem to have a strong alliance with what we “do”, with what we accomplish, with our success. In many conversations with my psychotherapy clients, they have told me that they would not know who they were if they did not have their careers – as it keeps them busy and feeling that they are accomplished, even though their personal lives and mental health might be suffering immensely. It is true that many of us can say that we love what we do for a living, and that it enriches our lives, but we must remember that it does not DEFINE us. Essentially, if we learn to define ourselves by what we do and accomplish, then many of us are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Life is in constant flux – jobs change, the job market changes, our physical health changes as we deal with illness and the aging process. All of these things affect our ability to “achieve”, and thus our ability to reach that high bar we have set for ourselves.

So if our careers and our achievements (our “doings”) do not define us, then what does??! This is the interesting question that many of us spend our whole lives trying to figure out and explore. Think about it: When we are born, our families consider us blessings even though we have not yet “achieved”. We are pure, innocent and untouched by life experience. We are worthy, we are loved, we are a SUCCESS. It is so interesting to me that as life progresses, we can no longer have that same acceptance and feeling of achievement for just “being” (now of course I do recognize that some babies are not as fortunate to be born into a family that is loving and emotionally healthy, but I am just generalizing here).

About five years ago, I became very ill with a digestive illness and had to take an eight month leave from my job… That was one of the greatest and most challenging experiences of my life. Who was I without being a “therapist”, a “helper”??…Essentially, without being the “helper”, I felt helpless…Like many others who become overwhelmed with their inability to get things done, to accomplish their goals, to be successful, I just stuck my head in the sand and allowed myself to be taken over by the Karma Mala. I lost hope, I felt completely useless and overwhelmed with life…but then I started to do a lot of thinking about who I TRULY am. Long story short, I soon after started practicing yoga and tried to get to know myself a lot better.

Through Yoga, we can learn to let go of the “doing” and the “thinking” and start “BEING”…reconnecting with the True Self that has no attachment to success, careers or attainment. Essentially, it all depends on how we define “success” and “achievement”. In our society, we have developed a very distorted and unhelpful definition of “success” and “achievement”- It is all about status and money, instead of being about being true to ourselves and developing meaningful relationships with others. I am learning that I feel more achieved and successful when I put my effort into developing strong relationships with others, and when my focus is on being true to my Self. Money and status are important, of course, but they cannot define my success in life.

My thoughts for the day. Have a great one.


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