September 30, 2013

Yoga & Self-Discipline: Finding Balance. ~ Hermione Armitage

Some of these yoga types seem to find self-discipline too easily.

Others, like me, do not. Yes, I will put my hand up and say “Hi, I’m Hermione and I’m discipline-phobic.” Even the word “discipline” and the idea that I might be restricted by rules or required to do, well, anything at all, rubs me the wrong way. Which is where my dilemma begins—how can one progress along the path of yoga (or with anything you love in life for that matter) and be totally rubbish with discipline and commitment?

I absolutely love all this yoga stuff—the asana practice, the philosophy, the way of being in the world and the community that develops around yoga—however I seem to have it all on my own terms, when and how I want.

Unfortunately for my “no self-discipline at all” side, the path of yoga has many references to the need for discipline—disciplining ourselves into a regular and daily practice of right action, thoughts, speech and awareness.

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an authoritative text on the practice of Hatha Yoga,  “overeating, talkativeness and wavering of the mind” (ch. 1, v. 15) are some impediments to yoga. And my man Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras states in book 1 v. 14 that “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well-attended to for a long time, without a break and in all earnestness.”

Man, really? A long time and without a break? That sounds tiring.

He also goes on, in verses 21 and 22 of Book One, to remind me that “To the keen and intent practitioner, Samadhi comes very quickly” and “The time necessary for success further depends on whether the practice is mild, medium or intense.”

So, if I am going to get anywhere on this path of yoga, I need get up at 5 a.m., do my asana, sit in meditation, be a good and mindful person all day, then go to bed early without any dessert, and do all this over and over for a long time without a break.

All this discipline sounds like hard work.

When it comes to being more disciplined, my alter ego has fed me every excuse in the book: “You can’t make yourself do something; it won’t be authentic. You’re already doing such a good job, don’t be so hard on yourself! Feeling guilty is worse than not doing anything at all. There is no separation of life and practice, is there? You can do walking/cleaning/cycling meditation! See—you’re focused on your breath aren’t you? That’s great!”

I turn into a creative yogic accountant and start finding ways to count what I’ve done that day as practice of some sort. However this can also bring out my inner critic: “You really should be sitting more, getting up earlier, eating better, drinking less coffee, doing that cleanse you always think about…”

I definitely could benefit from being a bit more disciplined, I will admit that. I could do with saying “no” to a few more coffees and croissants, but is there a point where we take discipline too far?

The yoga world seems to have a number of people who are looking for stability through control.

They appear to have transferred their obsession over food, body image, success or general perfection to obsession over asana.

I mentioned three things that, according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, will destroy yoga. The other three? Well, this is where it gets interesting (and where I get to sit back smugly with my bolster in a restorative pose). Two of the other three causes for the destruction of yoga are “adhering to rules” and “exertion.”

Need to get up and do two hours of crazy dynamic yoga everyday or you spin out and can’t cope? Well, the ancient texts says exertion and rules are not the way.

I love the ancient texts.

I have always understood that yoga is not about extremes. If that’s true, is the endorphin rush from an extremely physical practice actually something you can get addicted to? Is it not in the balanced middle path of yoga at all? If you can’t cope with the rest of your day and behave like a compassionate human being without having had your coffee or your primary series, are you addicted to rules and routine?

Not enough discipline makes us complacent, but does too much discipline actually make us rigid and inflexible?

So it would seem that discipline is not black and white; it is more of a sliding scale. It also seems to me that we can slip off this scale at either end. So if we try too hard or don’t try enough we are still attached, either to achieving or to our vices. And if you think about it, either way, it is attachment.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika goes on to list the six factors that will bring success to yoga—enthusiasm, perseverance, discrimination, unshakable faith, courage and avoiding the company of common people (but I won’t go in to that one today). If I do not practice, and make myself feel guilty for “not doing what I should”, I will probably get spun out into a self-pity failure story, allowing my mind to waiver. This wavering of the mind, according to our friend the Pradipika, will end up being a barrier along my path of yoga.

However, if I have unshakable faith in yoga, I will not see myself as a failure but will have the courage and perseverance to start again tomorrow.

And enthusiasm! I love this word! It shines with positivity and joy. Being enthusiastic does not mean perfection, but the willingness and desire to try without worry of success or failure.

Perhaps we find the middle path (the path of yoga) when we get to a place in our practice (and our existence in general) where we are not “trying” or “doing” at all but simply being and existing. The discipline is in training the body and mind to be equanimous—not attached to any outcome as either good or bad—and accepting all that is.

The discipline is in being courageous and enthusiastic no matter what happens.

I love the way in which all my thinking about yoga, no matter what it is, seems to twist and turn and then spiral back to the center of itself. It says to me: Yoga is about balance. It is not about extremes, separation or division; it is about the middle path. So, if we find discipline a challenge, or if we love rules and control a bit too much, we can all strive to find that middle ground, which is balanced effortlessly somewhere between the two.

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Assistant Ed: Dejah Beauchamp/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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Hermione Armitage