Loving discipline

The only disadvantage of practicing yoga is that you have to do it. What sounds like a bit of a redundant statement, is actually describing one of the main obstacles on the path of many yoga lovers. When we start to get involved with yoga, we may hear about all the wonderful benefits that yoga can bring into our life: health & fitness, emotional balance, mental clarity, spiritual opening and realization, deep bliss and happiness… A whole new dimension of potential and transformation opening up!
But then we might also hear accounts of the amount of practice that the yogis of lore would engage in, which are usually somewhat intimidating: yogi XY doing that same practice we just learned for 8 hours per day during 7 years… While this kind of dedication is probably far from the reality of most people’s busy lifes, these stories make it very clear that yoga was not conceived to be practiced once or twice per week for an hour, as we do when we go to a yoga studio. However, unless we live in a yoga ashram or a similar environment, taking our practice beyond this level will mean that we need to build an individual practice, and this requires a certain discipline.

Many of us grow up developing a certain aversion against discipline. Discipline is not fun. Discipline is what others (teachers, parents,…) would demand from us so that we keep doing things that in the best case are not fun, and in the worst case are things we simply don’t want to do. Discipline equals hard work with often no instant gratification. Discipline feels rigid. Discipline is boring. Many of us maintain this aversion (sometimes unconsciously) well into adulthood, and then life gets split up into one (often unloved) part, where a certain discipline is required (e.g. at work), and our “free time” where we will engage in fun activities that require no or at least “not too much” discipline. So it comes as no surprise, that when yoga teachings speak about a need for self-discipline, or a need for a constantly maintained practice, many people kind of back out. Yoga is attractive because we usually feel good when we come out of a class, plus it’s a nice way to meet other people, but to make it a discipline, a daily practice to be done by oneself, alone, at home? Boring!!!

For me, a big shift in my attitude towards discipline happened when I started to ask myself one important question: what if discipline was not about activities that others impose on me and that I don’t really want to do, but if instead I would discipline myself to actually do the things that are really important to me? What if I would “own” my discipline?
I honestly had to recognize that in my daily life, I was spending sooo much time just staggering from distraction to distraction. Even though this felt like a certain “freedom”, in the sense that I was doing what I felt like doing in the moment, it rarely brought a feeling of real fulfillment. It was quite a comfortable way of living, but also a bit flat.
From this point on, I started a series of experiments. First, I would discipline myself to do things that actually were fun: like treating myself daily with an extra-nicely decorated breakfast bowl. Or instead of a hasty greeting, giving my friends a looong hug when we would meet. In this way, discipline would be my tool to develop some nice habits.

Then, another big shift came with changing my attitude towards repetition. There are so many things in life that need a lot of repetition in order to be mastered: learning a musical instrument, learning any craft, learning to control your mind in meditation, cleansing your energy system through yoga practice… And there is always the point where we get bored. So I just gradually developed a curiosity: what happens if I go beyond this point of boredom? What if I repeat this repetitive task just a little more? What if I stay just a bit longer in meditation, or in a yoga posture? I soon realized that many times, just a little bit beyond the point of boredom, actually very interesting things would happen. A new level of naturalness in playing an instrument. A deeper sense of peace in meditation. A tangible shift of energy in my yoga practice. This motivated me to go further and further beyond this point of boredom, and over time I began to take this voice inside my head that was saying “I’m bored” not very serious anymore… Instead of craving instant gratification, I began to look more at the longer processes, at the shifts that came through maintaining a practice for weeks, months, years… And gradually, in all my activities, I began to open up to and appreciate more their meditative rather than their entertaining quality.

Participating in a silent meditation retreat was of great help on this journey. First, the group setting made it a lot easier to stay in the practice for hours, while the lectures provided some beneficial “food for the mind” between meditations. After some days, as the mind became more quiet, the sense of inner stillness and immense causeless happiness became more stable. The experience of resting in blissful presence, without any external stimuli, taught me the limited value of the mind’s constant craving for variety and entertainment. The memory of these experiences continues to nurture my motivation to maintain my practice even through the busier or bumpier periods of life.

Nowadays, I LOVE keeping a discipline. It’s fun. It’s an important tool that helps me to attain any goals I set for myself. I trust in the power of constantly working on something, so that results will manifest over time. Discipline gives a structure to my days, which in turn helps me to go through life with a more quiet mind, as I don’t have to figure out all the time what’s next. And instead of boredom, there is a deep fascination for all those unfoldings of life that just take a little longer than my monkey mind would like…