On being a Yoga Teacher with no Self-Discipline


Some of these Yoga types seem to find self discipline way too easy. 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 up 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?

One can never have too much cake

I absolutely love all this Yoga stuff – the asana practice, philosophy, the way of being in the world Yoga promotes and the community that develops around these ways – 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’ (c1, v15) are some of the causes which destroy Yoga. And my man Patanjali in his Yoga sutras states in book 1 v14 that –

‘Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time without break and in all earnestness.’ 

Man, really? a long time AND without break? That sounds tiring. He also goes on in verse 21 and 22 of book one to remind me that –

To the keen and intent practitioner, Samadhi comes very quickly’ and that ‘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 5am, do my asana, sit in meditation, be a good and mindful person ALL day, then go to bed early without any dessert ready to start all over again the next day and do this for a LONG TIME WITHOUT A BREAK … all this discipline could sound like hard work.

My old friends coffee and croissant

When it comes to being more disciplined my alter egos have fed me every excuse in the book – “oh you can’t make yourself do something or 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 it at all. And anyway Hermione, 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 then also slide over to my inner Gollum narrowing it’s eyes at me and scathingly saying “you really should be sitting more, getting up earlier, eating better, drinking less coffee, doing that cleanse we always think about. I mean you can’t even put your legs behind your head and we’re supposed to be a Yoga teacher aren’t we precious?”. (if you know Gollum from Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit you will get the idea)

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 perhaps are looking for stability through control. They appear to have just transferred their obsession over food, body image, success or general perfection to obsession over asana.  I mentioned 3 things that according to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika will destroy Yoga, The other 3? 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 2 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.

Don't exert yourself

Don’t exert yourself

I have always understood that Yoga is not about extremes, so is the endorphin rush from an extremely physical practice actually something you can get addicted to and not in the balanced middle path of Yoga at all? If you can not cope throughout the rest of your day and behave like a compassionate human being if you haven’t had or done something (either coffee or primary series, or both) 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 sliding scale at either end. So if we try too hard or don’t try enough we are still trying and 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 6 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 HYP, 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 positivity and joy. Being enthusiastic to me does not mean perfection but the willingness and desire to try without worry of success or failure.

Yoga bliss

Perhaps the middle path and path of Yoga is 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 equanamous – 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 centre of itself and simply say 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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