What do you think of when you here the word “discipline”?

I was talking to my partner the other day about a new work-project I’d undertaken. I was feeling frustrated and somehow stuck in this new endeavor. “If only I were more disciplined,” I complained, “I would be farther along by now!”

My partner pointed out to me that perhaps I was being too hard on myself. After all, this is a brand-new project and things take time. Beyond discipline, whatever dreams, goals, and intentions we pursue take patience, creativity, and, indeed, even a bit of luck.

This gave me pause. Just what did I mean when I said I needed to be more disciplined in pursuit of my goals? In my mind, if I worked harder, slept less, didn’t engage in other interests, ignored my significant relationships, and generally just kicked my own gluteus maximus a little harder, I would be disciplined enough to complete the task at hand.

Is it discipline or self-abuse?

I began to consider my understanding of discipline… Did I mistake discipline for self-abuse? And could my austere approach to discipline actually be contributing to the frustration I felt around this project?

Like so many of my fellow yoga practitioners, when I think of discipline I recall having been “disciplined” when I was a young child. In other words, for me discipline meant “what happens to me when I do something wrong.” Discipline is painful and to be avoided at all costs. I believed I must work very hard and be perfect in order to avoid being disciplined.

True, discipline refers to learning how to behave in a particular way, and punishment is often used as a corrective method. But the word “discipline” has its root in the word “disciple.” A disciple is one who learns from a teacher. A discipline is a branch of knowledge. Thus, there is an inherent link between discipline and the learning process.

Yoga and discipline.

From a yogic perspective, to be disciplined is to do the practice. For yoga practitioners, there is no such thing as “practice makes perfect.” We are already perfect. Practice is what removes all that is not in alignment with the perfection we inherently are.

This made me curious about what happens when I mistake self-abuse for discipline and perfection/success/achievement/insert-external-validation-here for practice. In the best of circumstances, I send myself into a tizzy without ever really giving myself the patience and compassion I need to achieve my goals. At worst, the self-abuse escalates along with my inability to find balance and step into Universal flow.


A practice for healing your relationship with discipline:

One of my favorite practices for healing my relationship with discipline comes from the book Living Your Yoga by Dr. Judith Lasater.

  • Consider an activity you have always wanted to do but never seem to make the time for. Perhaps it is a creative endeavor such as painting, sewing, or sketching. Maybe it contributes to your physical health, like going for a stroll or taking a power nap. Or it could be having time to do absolutely nothing!
  • Set aside fifteen minutes a day and do that activity.
  • If you believe you do not have fifteen minutes a day to do your chosen activity, prove yourself wrong!
  • In half-hour increments, write down what you do between 7am and 9:30pm every day. I bet you find there is some time spent on things that are not truly beneficial to you that could be better spent doing the meaningful activity that you’ve not yet had time for.