≡ Menu

Discipline not working? Try indulgence for a change.

Picture of a small girl under an elephant's foot

It's a statue. No children were squished to achieve this stunning illustration of the dark side of discipline.

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 the kitchen counter stretch for a minute once a day,” and received a well deserved “thanks, Mom,” in reply.

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.

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 Louie’s class, and the problem is solved 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 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 shoulder stand, 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.

It’s part of the Continuum work I’ve been learning from Penny Allport, who teaches at the Yoga on 7th studio.

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 will power.

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 indulgence a try.

Do you have ways of jollying yourself into a practice? Favorite indulgences? Do tell?

Photo Paul Sapiano, via Flickr.

If this was your kind of post, you might also like:

Meet your I-maker and feel less alone

10 tips for building a home yoga practice

5 good reasons to let a timer be your practice buddy


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Eve March 9, 2012, 8:43 pm

    My version of ” the dive” is legs-up-wall, buttocks on a bolster.
    After 5 or 10 minutes, if I haven’t jollied myself into practicing with the legs up straight, then I’ll follow with legs in splits, and maybe even supra baddha konasana, after that. Sometimes that’s enough of a kick start, and other times I might be too fatigued to carry on further. To honor limitations is good yoga practice, too.

    • Eve March 10, 2012, 2:38 pm

      Hi Eve,
      I like your dive – that gentle inversion usually helps bring back my energy too.
      I agree that honoring limitations is good yoga practice. It’s interesting to me that both Light on Yoga and Gem for Women prescribe one day a week of either no practice, or else only pranayama or only headstand and shoulder stand.
      I think sometimes we get overtaken by demons of consistency and forget that even the most dedicated practitioners take a regular day off.

  • elizabeth March 8, 2012, 8:57 pm

    Hi Eve,
    I have the same confession to make-oops I used it once when I wasn’t home.
    Somehow I expect myself to be disciplined and do a practice on my ‘own’ at home.
    Time to change my expectations of myself!! It is so enriching to hear that even you struggle with a daily practice. I feel so good in a class, yet turn total lazy and undisciplined at home.


    • Eve March 8, 2012, 11:14 pm

      Hey Elizabeth,
      I think almost everyone struggles with a home practice, especially in a practice like ours, which doesn’t necessarily set out a routine for every day, but instead asks that we inquire into the needs of the day.
      Don’t call yourself lazy and undisciplined!
      Just get on the floor, roll around, and see what you feel like doing. You might be surprised by where that leads you.

  • Traci March 8, 2012, 3:33 pm

    I think lying on the floor is essential to well-being! And even if you get that far, it’s good news. The body seems so happy to have the support of the floor, don’t you think? Also I’ve found these balls called sensy balls which are even more delicious to roll around on!

    • Eve March 8, 2012, 3:46 pm

      Hey Traci,
      Good to hear from you!
      I’ll check out sensy balls – I have a couple of yellow balls with soft spikes all over them, which are particularly lovely for hips and outer thighs, but I don’t know if they’re the same thing.

      • Traci March 10, 2012, 11:02 am

        they are indeed… my sacrum loves them

  • Jayne Lloyd-Jones March 8, 2012, 2:33 pm

    Eve – this has been so refreshing to read. You’ve sort of given us permission to be indulgent without the guilt. I totally identify with going to the pool with the intention of sitting in the hot tub; or settling on the mat in Supta Baddha Konasana because that’s where my energy level is pegged, only to find it perks up when you actually embark on the practice. I like the sound of the ‘dive’ – feeling my body pouring out on to the mat sounds funky and grounding. Many thanks for continuing to inspire.

    • Eve March 8, 2012, 2:42 pm

      Hey Jayne, good to hear from you.
      Glad to hear the post struck a chord. I was worried I was the only one who felt this way, in a world of yogis who are always up for a brisk cycle of standing poses. : )
      If you think you’d like a dive, try taking a Continuum class. It’s fascinating work.

  • grant richards March 8, 2012, 2:08 pm

    -“and we all know where that can lead.”
    you mean like foreplay…. or shall we call it floorplay…
    Great post Eve, very true .
    By the way,you prob know this trick but putting your 2 tennis balls in a tightish sock helps keep them in line I found.

    • Eve March 8, 2012, 2:33 pm

      Floorplay – lovely!
      Thanks for that Grant, and for the tennis ball sock trick suggestion.
      I’ve resisted the sock, although it sounds like a good idea, because I have two tennis balls and I want at least one free for rolling the sole of my foot. And I find that the more I roll, the less trouble I have keeping the tennis balls in line.
      Anyone else have an opinion on that score?

      • Daphne Gray-Grant March 8, 2012, 3:14 pm

        Buy more tennis balls!! Great post!

        • Eve March 8, 2012, 3:25 pm

          Really? It’s possible to buy more tennis balls?
          Ah, the small indulgences we deny ourselves. . . . .
          Thanks Daphne!