It’s tricky self-discipline. We know what is healthy for us, but sometimes it’s difficult to get ourselves to do those healthy things. Why is that? We don’t seem to have a problem binge-watching our favorite sitcom, eating our favorite treats, spending way too much time scrolling through social media or internet sites – some favorite things, others we don’t even really like doing. The cause is our samskãras, the subtle impressions of our past karmas – actions. The more often we perform an action, the deeper the samskãras. Our samskãras are like grooves in a rock bed, if water keeps flowing in the same groove, it’ll get more and more defined; however, if the water is redirected, the grooves will cease to increase and over time may be filled in and almost disappear. The key is to fill in the grooves we wish to decrease and redirect to accentuate the grooves we wish to deepen.
Therefore, if we have difficultly committing to our practice of Yoga asanas, we must build a deeper groove to get on our yoga mat and finish our practice while decreasing the grooves that distract us from realizing our aspirations. This can be achieved by bringing together the balanced qualities of Shiva consciousness and Shakti energy. In other words, consciously reflecting on the modalities to achieve our aim and applying the energy to the ideas to make it actually happen. I find these three preparatory steps useful:
Step 1: Realistically assessing our weekly obligations. Making three lists – first, list all the non-negotiable responsibilities you must do each week – second, list all the things you feel you should and want to do but if you don’t, it’s not really the end of the world – lastly, list all the things you spend time on but have no obligations for, nor a strong desire to do regularly (some of these may be activities you decide to no longer engage in).
Step 2: Take a calendar and fill-in the timetable. I like to leave lots of space, to allow for activities that take longer than expected so I don’t feel rushed. It helps with stress, impatience and the very human quality of not being a machine moving from one obligation to the next.
Step 3: Now you see more clearly how you spend your days and can sensibly decide when to add in your yoga practice. It’s important that you set yourself up for success from the beginning. Doing less but with more consistency will give you the sense of accomplishment – building healthy self-esteem.
Once you have consciously established your practice routine, you need the energy to get off your butt and do it. This is where cultivating Tapas – the burning desire to succeed on your path, comes in handy. You must carve out deeper grooves of will-power and discipline while filling in the samskãras of distraction.
It’s about not thinking and just doing; it’s about generating a fiery passion to get on your mat. As soon as thoughts of ‘oh, maybe later’, ‘my muscles hurt’, ‘I’m tired’, ‘I’ve got to check my emails first’ set in – it’s essential to ignore them! There will always be a reason to do something else! Our minds are amazing at making excuses.
Aside from sheer will-power and perseverance, I find it useful to remind myself that it is my decision to practice, no one is asking me to do this, I want to practice because it nourishes my body, clears my mind and smooths out my breath; bringing a sense of inner-peace and waking me on many levels.
Whether you have been practicing for one year or twenty, the question of finding the ‘right’ amount of self-discipline is an on-going balancing act. Am I using my practice to beat myself up, weaken my self-esteem or am I using my practice to embrace who I am?
It’s important to create inner-peace and compassion allowing yourself to feel more tolerant with yourself and compassionate towards others. When we get caught in either self-condemning or self-important behavior, both behaviors are parts of the ego, and they will not bring about a healthy sense of self-esteem.
But first, we need to agree upon what is ego. We normally think of the ego as a bad thing – ‘oh he has such a huge ego’ – ‘it’s all about her ego’
In spiritual practice we hear things such as: ‘burning away the ego’, ‘killing the ego.’ However, I believe it’s more complex than this Our ego is synonymous with our character, which is a collection of our samskãras, the sum of our actions. Therefore, our words, thoughts and deeds are both our ego and our karmas, they are circular, influencing each other.
When we embrace our ego, we begin to soften, not needing to fiercely protect it nor condemn it. Allowing it to be what it is so it doesn’t take us over as easily. We then have more capacity to change our samskãras, because we begin to have space between our thoughts and our actions.
Then how to avoid attaching our self-worth to our practice? Occasionally we use our practice to compare ourselves to others, to congratulate ourselves on our good behavior and skills, or reprimand ourselves for our lack of self-discipline and skills.
When we embrace our ego, we begin to soften, not needing to fiercely protect it nor condemn it. Allowing it to be what it is so it doesn’t take us over as easily. We then have more capacity to change our samskãras, because we begin to have space between our thoughts and our actions. In fact, we become more able to act consciously, rather than to react unconsciously.
To sum up, our aim is to cultivate joy on the yoga mat; enjoying the process will make us want to do it again and again. Guiding us to have the capacity to listen more deeply to eliminate negative samskãras while cultivating positive ones. The merging of Shiva consciousness with Shakti energy teaches us in knowing when we need to push a little more and when we need to let go. Our self-worth will not have anything to do with an outer appearance, as deep inside we know we are doing exactly what we need to be doing.
Linda Munro is a dedicated mother, wife, yoga teacher, studio manager, author and mindful Ashtanga Yoga practitioner.