Let's define ego for a minute. In a broad sense, it is your self image or the way you view yourself. On a deeper level, your ego is the impetus for all mental pain, fear and resistance. It is the defense mechanism of the persona, the place where we judge, define and analyze the world and others, in order to create a safe haven or a protective barrier inside ourselves.
To simplify this, imagine that you're walking down the street and someone yells "you're ugly". The very first thing that kicks into gear is your ego. Wait, I am not ugly, who is this jackass, you get upset. This person has challenged your self image. They have unleashed the beast. Except that in reality, your looks haven't changed and you are not ugly. All that has happened is that your ego has been bruised. But it has set the emotional ball rolling.
I often hear from friends or newbies to yoga that they can't keep up with others in class, they can't do handstands or hold downward dog. And so they quit or say yoga isn't for me. And maybe it isn't but not for those reasons. The ego will tell you that you don't need to feel inferior in a class, you don't need some hippy workout, you've got that injury from a decade ago, you're better than this, etc. This resistance to trying or growing or learning is the ego. Your ego will tell you to quit a challenging situation in order to protect your self image. All your excuses in life are ego driven. It would like to keep you in your safe and pretty little (*small*) box for the rest of your life.
The irony is that the ego really is just trying to keep you safe and secure. The ego wants to protect you from pain, hurt, shame, rejection, criticism, discomfort, risk, fear, sadness, challenges, failure, etc. But where would any of us be in life in life if we did not overcome adversities? If we didn't take risks? The quote that "life happens outside of your comfort zone" really means that growth and living happens outside your ego.
This is where the need to check yourself comes into play. Is this reality or my ego talking? And if your answer is ego, stop yourself from going down that treacherous and slippery rabbit hole. Constantly checking your world for reality-based assessments versus ego driven fantasies is the key to begin liberating yourself from this beast.
Coming to terms with the fact that there is a major gap between reality and ego is a very difficult challenge. The two are often so intertwined that we see them as one in the same. It will not be easy but stick with it. It will only serve you better to become hyper aware of the resistance your ego has to true growth and real, not perceived, happiness.
Above all try not to not feed the beast. The ego thrives off of judgments of others, comparison to others, fear and expectations. Stop these in their tracks. Move beyond them and I promise you will begin to find a liberating release.
Be ego free my friend,