Discipline is not a very ‘in’ word right now. Acceptance, gratefulness, allowing. These words are far more fashionable. But it’s not always what’s in vogue that we have to truly incorporate into our lives.
Of course, many people come to yoga because there’s too much discipline in their lives. Perhaps this discipline has even resulted in a routine that is slowly eating away at them. They have to get up, go to work, pay the bills, see their parents in law, do the right thing, say yes when they mean no, put up with the system, be conservative in public, wear black, smile when it rains, stop complaining, eat their vegetables. And so they come to yoga for a little ease. A little rest and recuperation. A little recharge. A little me time where they can do what they want and be in the body. They certainly don’t come for more discipline.
Yet, especially in the more traditional asana practices, championed particularly by Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, discipline is very much at the fore front of what it is to have a practice. Turning up to your mat six days a week is no easy feat. Let alone doing the practice itself. In fact, this is most peoples idea of a terrible time. So why are yogis espousing discipline?!
Well through discipline comes great freedom, perhaps even complete liberation. Note, the kind of discipline required for a yoga practice is not the same type of discipline that was behind the school board of the early 1900’s. No no. You can’t cane yourself into samadhi. Instead, a far ‘purer’ form of discipline is required. A discipline of right effort. It is not a discipline that forces anything; there is no where to go; nothing to attain nor attach to. The type of discipline we’re interested in focuses on detachment.
In terms of asana, when we practice with correct discipline only then we can reap the benefits of different postures. Indeed, the body responds differently and more harmoniously to this type of effort-ing. Especially for those of us working through the early stages of the primary series. Coming back each day to the asymmetric seated postures is the surest way to keep what is in motion, moving. Practicing irregularly over a long time only creates discordance in the body. For it is not the path of ease that will lead to an effortless practice. It is quite the opposite. Only through a disciplined, consistent effort does one begin to approach a truly effortless yoga practice.
So to is this true for the mind. If you want excuses to not practice, there’s plenty that the mind can chose from. To get past the mind and, indeed, to get past the body, we must exorcise discipline. Equally, extending this understanding to the other limbs of yoga is also necessary. One cannot pick and chose when it is acceptable to steal for example. Indeed, the idea is somewhat laughable. You must not steal, all the time. That’s how creating the virtue of not stealing works.
Of course, adhering to this level of discipline first creates big waves in our lives, but over time it softly stills the waters of our mind and purifies the waters of our body. Yes, great discipline is needed to practice yoga.