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Instead of Discipline, Try Yogic Indulgence
I heard from someone last week who bought the “My Five-Minute Yoga” app, didn’t use it, and wanted to be sure that the $2.99 cost wasn’t a recurring monthly fee. (No. It isn’t.) During our email conversation, I asked why it wasn’t working for her. “Unfortunately, I don’t do the yoga,” she wrote. “In theory it was good but I am not that disciplined.” Right away I sent back a tidy paragraph of advice: “don’t give up, make it smaller, just do a kitchen counter stretch for a minute once a day.” I received a well-deserved “thanks, Mom,” in reply. Perhaps I should have recommended yogic indulgence instead.
I’ve been dissatisfied with my advice ever since because I let a fat one—the idea that lack of discipline is the problem—go by unchallenged. The problem with applying discipline to a yoga practice is that it divides the self in two when the whole point of yoga is to find union. When we’re being “disciplined,” the mind holds the leash, and the body wears the collar.
Obstacles to Staying Disciplined in Your Yoga Practice
Just to be clear, I struggle with practice all the time. That’s why I write about it. By nature, I like cooking, eating, and sitting on a couch, reading. I value idleness and can happily be employed doing nothing at all. When I stop to think about it, I’m still surprised that I teach a physical discipline. That’s the power of yoga: even the born indolent can be seduced into a steady practice.
But my practice regularly hits bumps, large and small. Here’s one of the large ones:
On Tuesdays I practice, then teach two classes, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. On Wednesday morning, the last thing I want is more yoga.
Some weeks I go to another teacher’s class. This solves the problem for me. Being told what to do is ever so much easier than telling yourself. On other Wednesdays, discipline is no match for my inertia. I already know it’s pointless to drag my tired body to the mat for a normal practice. Experience says it will be unsettled and unsatisfying.
The truth is, if you’re living with an animal, sometimes the animal gets to choose. And the rest of the time, it’s better to be friends and partners than servant and boss. So lately I’ve been practicing the art of yogic indulgence.
How to Dive into Yogic Indulgence
Back when swimming was my main form of exercise, I would get myself to the pool on low-energy days by promising that the only thing I had to do was make it to the hot tub. Of course by the time I was soaking, I’d invested too much energy to just go home. By the third length, the pleasure of swimming would kick in, and I’d be happy to swim my regular distance.
I’ve found several hot-tub equivalents for my practice. I tell myself I’ll just do a restorative pose, or I’ll roll on tennis balls, or do a Shoulderstand Pose (Sarvangasana), maybe from the chair. These strategies all work to get me started, sometimes, sort of.
Lately, I’ve learned a powerful new technique, called a dive. I lie down on the floor, close my eyes, and notice all the places my body meets the floor. Then, imagining that my inner body is liquid, I feel it pour into or away from the points of contact.
In a dive, my body is leading, and my job is to not plan, direct, or think ahead. That’s a big change. Yes, I listen to my body in my practice. But I listen to its reactions. In asana practice, I ask my body to perform highly specific actions, to move into and maintain set forms. It takes energy and willpower.
How Yogic Indulgence Just Might Lead to “Discipline”
Now, on days when I have neither, I set a timer for 15 minutes and promise myself that I’ll just roll around on the floor, playing. If I still don’t want to practice, I can get up and leave. By the time I’m done, I’ve simultaneously indulged and shaken off my lethargy. There I am, on my mat, in my practice clothes. It’s easy to pick up a strap and do some leg stretches—and we all know where that can lead.
Doing a dive takes 15 minutes away from practice, but it repays the time. When my body has been let out to play, the practice that follows feels quieter, and more like an inquiry than a rote performance.
This is new for me. We’ll see how it goes. For the moment, I’d just like to say, if you think you don’t practice because you’re not “disciplined” enough, give yogic indulgence a try.
Reprinted with permission from Eve Johnson/My Five-Minute Yoga Practice.
Eve Johnson taught Iyengar Yoga for 18 years before being introduced to Spinefulness in 2016. Convinced by the logic, clarity, and effectiveness of Spinefulness alignment, she took the teacher training course and was certified in July 2018. Eve teaches Spineful Yoga over Zoom and offers an online Spinefulness Foundations course. For course information, go to http://spinefulness.ca.