On Discipline

In Jainism, Kevala Jñāna (Sanskrit: केवलज्ञान) or Kevala Ṇāṇa (Jain Prakrit: केवल णाण), "Perfect or Absolute Knowledge", is the highest form of knowledge that a soul can attain.

DISCIPLINE: ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense [mortification by scourging oneself] ): via Old French from Latin disciplina ‘instruction, knowledge,’ from discipulus (see disciple ).

Recently there was an article in the Wall Street Journal regarding French parents vs. American parents.  It was an article on discipline, and how we approach it differently as a culture. What I found interesting is the French don’t see the word discipline as punishment but rather as ‘educating’. In a nutshell the article was about how French parents teach their children how to wait; in a restaurant, at home, at the park, in public, while their parent is on the phone etc…This struck a huge chord for me, particularly someone who practices Ashtanga vinyasa and who is a new parent.

Several weeks ago I had a discussion with a colleague regarding  a friend of hers who went to a Mysore class and was told to stop and take rest by the teacher.  My colleague said, “can you image how that made her feel?”. Of course this did not sit well with this student, she is an ‘advanced yogi’ right?  More than likely they suffered a mild sense of humiliation, was confused, and or wanted to prove that they knew what they were doing.  She never returned.

There are no other yoga practices that I’ve experienced where a teacher will tell a student to stop mid way through. There is a reason for this in the Ashtanga system, and understanding it is an important part of the practice, and also part of the Hatha yoga lineage of teacher/ student relationship. It is easy for us to succumb to the emotion, to be angry, or have the desire to continue – this is the ego.  How we handle being told ‘NO’, ‘Please wait’, or ‘Stop’ – IS part of the learning.

I have been teaching regularly now for only a little over 2 years and practicing for 12 – and through teaching and practicum, completely realize and value the Ashtanga lineage and system.  There is no ambiguity, and nothing superfluous within the system/series. Every breath and asana is a ‘prescription’. The practice is an incredible teacher.  It has ‘worked’ in terms of taming my bad habits and or completely making me honest and aware of them, particularly my patience. See, I can be a big brat.  I want it NOW. Give it to me NOW. Like full on Veruca Salt.  This has been something that my practice has helped me discern, and yes, being humbled in the process was critical in in this lesson.

We live in a world and culture where we are rewarded just for participating, and can get what we want when we want.  Learning to be at ease with not getting what we want (which is desire) is a mastery of the senses and part of real life.  The real good stuff requires time, devotion, dedication, and discipline (higher knowledge) – because “the sweet just ain’t as sweet without the sour.”

From what I have learned in my own practice, the yoga (the yoking) is what happens through the practice and implementation of the 8 limbs (which take learning), and the teaching of a traditional yoga lineage (Hatha, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Sivananda, traditional Vinyasa Krama, etc…)  is similar to that of a martial art. There is a highly regarded teacher, who helps students understand the etiquette, discipline, respect, self-confidence, and breathing and meditation techniques of that lineage.

Similar to that of a martial art, in Ashtanga there is a series of progression (1st – 6th series), each has it’s reason for existence and different effects on the gross, subtle, and causal bodies.   Also, this teacher, sensei, guru is a transmitter of a lineage, and generally there is an import of honor there (which is a discipline).  In most martial art centers or traditional yoga studios there are images of their master teachers, honoring them. I value this and I like knowing where it all came from.

If you have ever had a great teacher you have experienced first hand that the relationship between you and them becomes stronger over time. A good teacher can help you overcome many obstacles during your (life)time practicing (physically and mentally), introduce humility to an overzealous student (something very hard for our culture), and encourage a student who is ready for new challenges to step out of the comfort zone.  These teachers are hard to find, and in my mind, extremely valuable.

I can only write from my own experience…and after thinking deeply about this and from practicing other styles of ambiguous asana yoga in my early years, it is the Ashtanga lineage that has provided me the most in terms of foundation, discipline, humility, and courage. In thinking back on my colleague’s friend who went to the Mysore practice – I would have asked some hard questions. “Why did you feel uncomfortable?  What was it that made you not want to go back?”  Chances are those answers and some hard self-study would reveal that the Ashtanga system is exactly what that student would need in order to change ‘pre-conditioned’ notions and patterns deep inside.    An advanced yogi is always a beginner, doesn’t have to contort their body into advanced postures, can detach from a practice, has nothing to prove, can just be with exactly what is.

“It’s in those places of discomfort where the teacher exists”, my other friend Josh would say. Ashtanga, is not all gooey and lovey most of the time,  and  it’s not very democratic. It’s made me fall on my head, stomach, laugh out loud, swear like a truck driver, bust out in tears, and sometimes just step away…it is in that very relationship that I have journeyed into deep corners of my mind and body to unearth truths that I did not believe or know existed about me (some gorgeous and some that needed discarding).  It’s taken me nearly 12 years to realize it to this level. It requires us to be in those places of discomfort to question, move through, evolve, find ease, so that the learning presents itself and the mind becomes sharp.

For me, the word discipline no longer has a negative connotation, but rather implies action and awareness on my part.  As a new parent I want to ensure my daughter LEARNS how to be with herself in the times of discomfort. How I handle NO or PLEASE WAIT is how I will teach her.   Consistency, discernment, repeating, confronting, pushing aside distractions, being with, and learning,  are words I associate with discipline.  I am far more comfortable being rejected, turned down, told no, and respecting a teacher that tells me to wait – it takes awareness and practice – and sometimes I ‘lose it’ – but I can bring myself back far easier than before.  I am not above or below – but exactly where I am.  I am so thankful that I have the ability to see this now – because not only does it make me a better friend, parent, student, and teacher…it makes me a better human.

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