“Without practicing discipline, one cannot gather his scattered energy, and all his goals will remain dreams that never materialize. Discipline is not a punishment but a part of growth, without which mental and physical health cannot be maintained”-Swami Rama
Getting on the yoga mat everyday can sometimes feel like punishment. It is…depending on how you use it. If practice is used as a penance for eating pizza and cake, as a way to beat the mind and body into submission, or a way to shame ourselves into changing what we think is bad about ourselves, it totally is punishment.
Google defines discipline as “train (someone) to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.”
That sounds terrible.
There is another way of looking at it. Discipline is a way of achieving goals. We use it all the time. Brushing our teeth, taking the kids to school, and eating nutritious meals are all acts of discipline that have to be done regularly in order to achieve the desired effects which are healthy teeth, educated kids and a healthy body respectively. We use the same discipline for bigger goals such as a doctor consistently studying so she can cure patients, MLK Jr. consistently fighting for the rights of African Americans during the Civil Rights movement, a businessman consistently hustling so he can be successful.
There is nothing in this world that does not require discipline, order and consistency to thrive. If the Earth’s distance from the Sun does not stay consistent, our civilization will be wiped out. Our society thrives when we are consistent at our respective jobs. If the garbage man does not show up, the farmer stops farming, or the internet companies stop putting wires into the ground, many aspects of our lives would come to a halt. Discipline and consistency move us forward. They keep us focused on what is important in life. Discipline and consistency free us up to realize our highest self.
Practicing yoga daily does the same thing. A dedicated practice ensures that we focus our energy every day towards our goals. It is not a punishment but a gift we give ourselves.
You may be thinking, “I have had the goal of binding in Marichi or doing handstand for 3 years and I still cannot do it.” This is a good goal. Don’t get me wrong. Consistency will get you to a handstand way faster than inconsistency will. However, me and no one else can promise anyone that they can get, keep and maintain an asana. To be honest, it is not a promise that the Earth will maintain its orbit either.
Here is the thing about yoga though and it is why I love it so much. The purpose of yoga is to know your true nature. Nothing can ever stop that. Not even the Earth falling into the Sun can stop that. Not even not practicing every day can stop that LOL. Huh? What? “Didn’t you just say I needed to be consistent?” Yoga says (science also), your energy is eternal. Like a river flowing towards the ocean, it is inevitable that you will get back to your source. How you get there is up to you. It can be the direct or scenic route. It can be now or later. It can be through ease or hardship. Our level of discipline and consistency is what dictates how we get there and at what rate.
The Yoga Sutras say ” To the keen and intent practitioner this comes very quickly. The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense. Or through surrender to divine consciousnesses ” (1:21-23).
We can sum up the Yoga Sutras into two student categories. One student needs a whole lot of effort, practices, teachers and studying to loosen the grip of pain and suffering and stay firmly seated in the spiritual heart. The other student does not. This student surrenders to their heart and by grace, and maybe the actions of previous lifetimes, the false self falls away. Since the Yoga Sutras is full of practices, it is probably safe to say that it is written more for the student who needs a lot of help and effort. Most of us cannot surrender. Even if the simplest things in our lives like traffic, our kids, our spouse or our hair does not act like we want, we lose it. I spent $145 yesterday on hair products because I cannot even surrender to something as simple as the Summer weather and a few months of frizzy hair. Even much surrendering long enough to realize the ultimate truth of who I am. I am too busy trying to make sure I don’t have pimples, my urine is clear and that my daughter cleans up the kitchen after breakfast. My practice gives me 2 hours to consistently focus on who I am inside instead of white teeth, which multi-vitamin to use and the fading away of America’s middle class.
Discipline is not punishment. It is a gift that enables me to consistently remember who I am and to connect to myself.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail email@example.com.