In the West, there is a widely accepted view that yoga is mainly or solely a physical practice.
But you don’t need to be a yogi in order to practice yoga. One of the principle tenets of yoga is discipline: discipline of the body and discipline of the mind. In Western society, both our bodies and minds over-indulge the senses, and must be disciplined.
Our senses pull us in one direction or another, seeking pleasure, usually trying to avert the unpleasant circumstances, things or people in our lives.
We run after a pleasure source, thinking that this will bring us happiness. However, once the pleasure or pleasure source is eliminated, our minds and bodies seek a way to obtain pleasure again.
Some will go to any lengths or costs to achieve it.
Pleasure then becomes pain, until we discover the pleasure source again. Thereinafter, a cycle of pleasure/pain continues.
Discipline, or the burning of impurities (known as tapas in Sanskrit) of the mind or body helps to break this pleasure/pain cycle. Self-discipline, though, is not a prevalent practice in our society. Many of us would rather act in ways that are not only detrimental to ourselves, but to others as well.
With discipline, both mind and body can become healthy and balanced.
However, too much discipline will stifle any long-term benefits, and all discipline should be undertaken gradually, with incremental steps, making the task at hand more palatable. Both mind and body will rebel if too much discipline is instituted, and therefore, each individual should be aware of their mental and physical reactions, which could sabotage their efforts.
The increase in obesity levels, heart disease, diabetes and inflammatory diseases can be directly correlated to a lack of discipline in our lives.
Our society overindulges in fattening and sugary foods on a regular basis because food seems to taste better the more fat or sugar it contains. There is very little accountability for one’s actions and the healthcare system is overloaded with people who have no discipline and overindulged.
If we took the time and patience to discipline our senses, and limit the pleasure source, then eventually other, healthier choices become more palatable, and a sense of moderation becomes instilled. We have a much more balanced way of living.
But the more we pleasure our senses with sugary and fattening foods, the more we expose ourselves to harmful diseases and pain.
Then we take medicine and other remedies to alleviate the suffering, without addressing the cause of our pain and disease. Discipline does not mean one can never indulge the senses, it just means that the lower mind, the mind that searches for primal level gratification, needs to submit to a higher authority, one’s own internal wisdom, one’s higher mind.
Discernment can then be exercised, and balanced re-established.
Otherwise, repeated behaviors that are seemingly rewarded with pleasure become habit, and much more difficult to control and discipline.
Discipline requires a level of mindfulness.
First, we must become aware of the direction in which the senses are pulled. For example, each time you pass a candy or sweets aisle at a store, do you notice that you start salivating, that your senses are stimulated, and you find yourself walking over to your favorite chocolate bar, without much thought, as if in automatic pilot?
When the senses are stimulated, so are the mind and body, and they follow the senses. Once we identify the pleasure sources, it is easier to modify the behaviors and habits leading us to run to these pleasure sources.
Many will resist the need for discipline by way of behavior modification because constant effort and awareness is required.
Habits don’t die easily.
Many people become frustrated that after years of developing a habit they are not able to shed it merely weeks or months later. As habits take time to develop, so does the discipline to break these habits. Eventually, the disciplined behavior becomes a habit, and much easier to adhere to.
For years, I suffered a chocolate and sugar addiction.
As a law student, I was often bored in class, or without interest in the subject matter. To combat my pain, I indulged in a pleasure source—a bag of nickel candy—which I would share with others, but nevertheless, bought for myself.
I began to substitute sweets for meals, as my insulin levels rose then fell, always seeking more sugar to store in my fat cells. I never had a real weight problem, with my weight fluctuating five to 10 pounds in any year, but my teeth began to develop cavities.
I have more cavities than fingers on my hands, and now my dentist is benefiting from my past pleasure source, while I succumb to the pain of the dentist’s office.
Eventually, I broke this habit by replacing it with an equally unhealthy one: I spiraled into Dr. Atkin’s diet of protein and fat. While it broke my sugar addiction, I began to overindulge in fat and protein.
Only in the last few years have I disciplined my senses, mind and body, and have become more balanced.
Material possessions or consumptive goods are not the only things that we, as a Western society, overindulge in. Power, greed and ego also top the list. Not only are these vices detrimental to the individual, they effect the whole of society.
We are no longer disciplining ourselves, but trying to control and discipline others.
We tell others how they should live their lives, what they should eat, who they should marry or how they should behave. Some call it influencing others, but the influence is taken up a notch, with provocative advertising, negative campaigning, directed aggressiveness or financially incentivized lobbyists.
There is no balance, only a system of imbalance, in which everyone is trying to satisfy their senses, without contemplating the effects on the whole.
Of course, children need discipline, but there should an element of free will exercised as well, always a balance, to ensure health and wholeness.
Through consciousness and discipline, we can start to exercise healthier choices for ourselves, which will, in turn, effect the health of the whole. When we are able to finally watch our senses pull us all over the place, we may become incentivized to discipline the senses, which in turn will help us discipline the body and mind
When we are confused as to how to proceed, we must sit quietly and ask our higher mind. The higher mind is filled with the wisdom of the creator. It acts like a loving parent, filled with compassion and understanding for us, our choices and our senses.
Rather than berate or condescend, this voice is empathetic and can offer a solution to help discipline what needs to be disciplined. Maybe that voice says, “Get a personal trainer” or “Go to the library and find a resource on healthy, balanced eating,” or ”Stop trying to find someone who’ll love you, love yourself.”
Whatever your higher mind says, I have no doubt that it will lead you on the right path for you, the individual. Don’t rely on others for discipline, once the others are gone, so is the disciplining authority.
You possess a teacher within you. Go inside and connect to your higher intelligence, your higher wisdom. Once you’ve connected to the source of internal and eternal wisdom, others will come to help you on your path.
There will always be temptation or others who will want to influence you otherwise, but if you are connected to your higher voice, you will eventually be able to divert your attention from these temptations, and heed the wisdom within.
You don’t need to be a yogi to practice yoga. Discipline yourself.
Connect to the teacher inside. Connect to your internal wisdom.
Karen Nourizadeh, a “recovering attorney,” is now a yoga instructor with Pure Yoga and New York Sports Clubs as well as a writer and media contributor. Karen freed herself from law and the corporate world to help people heal themselves, mentally and physically, through yoga. Karen is completing her first work, a memoir, detailing her struggle to get out of law, find herself and fulfill her destiny. On a spiritual quest, Karen encounters a mysterious 10 year-old Indian boy, who introduced himself as “Goldie Hawn’s son.” The boy teaches Karen lessons of the heart through his pure, honest, uncalculated actions. He affirms to her what is already in her heart, and helps to free her from her worst enemy, her mind. Follow Karen on Facebook and Twitter.
Editor: Lara C.
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