Yoga, the essence of self-discipline

Whether young, old or very old, sick or debilitated, one who is vigilant attains success in all the yogas, by means of practice. — Hatha Yoga Pradipika i : 64

Yoga, in its many forms, essentially is a self-discipline, of both body and mind. Yoga practice is not intended only for the days when one feels good, inspired, awake, enthusiastic, or energetic. Yoga is meant to be practiced through all that life brings us. Steadfast daily practice is the only way to progress through yoga’s many stages of personal development. Whether sick, worried, sad, injured, tired, or even indifferent, the discipline of yoga calls us into that present moment to face life’s constant changes.

The mind will always provide opportunities to rationalize not practicing. In other words, one must resolve to practice in spite of lack of motivation. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois always stressed the importance of consistency. Through his decades of experience, he knew that yoga was not only a tool to face difficulties in life, but also a way to create the capacity and potential for growth. In tough times, when one hones the ability to make excuses, a steady practice can make a huge difference. Pattabhi Jois advised students to come to class, roll out their mats, begin their practice, and see where that led. This teaches not only discipline, but detachment.

Success comes to him who is engaged in the practice. How can one get success without practice; for by merely reading books on Yoga, one can never get success. — Hatha Yoga Pradipika i : 67

Ashtanga is a demanding form of yoga, both physically and mentally. Establishing a foundation requires consistent effort. Once formed, it must be maintained for safe and steady progress. Daily practice will always challenge you, and saving those challenges for “good” days makes the difficult even more so. Feeling under par doesn’t guarantee a negative experience on your yoga mat. In fact only practicing when you feel at your peak can actually be more discouraging than coming to class consistently, even with lower energy.

In a crazy week, coming to class every morning for half an hour is more beneficial than one day for ninety minutes. Yes, there are times when rest is needed and you shouldn’t practice, such as running a fever. It’s not essential to have a kick-yourself-in-the-ass practice. A modified practice is appropriate for weathering most maladies. Overall however yoga is more effective in frequency than duration. As you practice, you allow your body to accommodate what your breath is capable of. Likewise, you must allow your practice to accommodate what your life is capable of.

Self-discipline, like many other qualities, must be cultivated. Progress in any form is accomplished through sustained effort. There are no shortcuts. The truest essence of yoga is not in any outward physical manifestations, but rather in the deeper, more subtle and profound changes, gained only through meeting the challenges that a daily practice reveals.

Some tips we’ve gleaned over the years, all relating to maintaining as consistent a schedule as possible:

  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule; sleep no longer than 6-7 hours a night.
  • Go to bed early, no later than 11pm.
  • For morning practitioners, eat a light dinner (easily digestible foods) no later than 2-3 hours before bed.
  • Drink a glass of water before sleeping.
  • Shower briefly first thing in the morning.
  • Drink a small cup of tea or coffee half an hour before practice. (not a venti latte)

Yoga, 99% practice, 1% theory – Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

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