The thin line between discipline and self-aggression

by Kathleen Yount

Discipline is an essential component in a yoga practice, and life in general; as much as I enjoy a day of unstructured time, if left to my own undisciplined devices I would quickly devolve into a life of sleep, snacks, and slow walks leading nowhere. That isn’t the life I want to have. (Well, maybe on Sundays….)

So, we can’t do this thing without discipline. But there is an important quality we need to apply alongside our discipline, and that is gentleness. I suspect many of us have a hard time discerning the line where discipline becomes self-aggression—and I’d put myself at the top of that heap. When we get aggressive with ourselves, our failures and even our successes have an underlying harshness to them. If you share this affliction with me, you know too well the self-critical mantra of “I should have done better, I should have done more” that plays in your mind whether you succeed or fail. And like me, you may have an injury or two (or four) that resulted from pushing too much for too long.

self-kindnessYoga asana is a great tool for teaching yourself to walk the fine line of discipline that is persistent but not aggressive, in your body and your mind. In fact, one of my favorite definitions of yoga is knowing the difference between too much and not enough. And y’all, that ain’t easy!

I’m starting (slowly, haltingly) to learn I am most effective when the tone I take with myself is one of gentle steadfastness. Learning to pair discipline with a sense of gentleness toward myself and my efforts helps me stay the course, because it empowers me to strive instead of playing on my fear of failure.

So here is my kindly challenge for you today: Can you notice when your sense of drive edges into harshness—when your efforts become pushy, on the mat or in life? What might it be like to soften the edges a bit—not to slack off, not to let yourself off the hook, but to strive with kindness?

I think it feels like sweetness, as well as strength.