In my one-to-one work there are two themes that keep coming up. One is about acceptance – tuning in to what we need and where we’re at on a given day and being ok with that. And the other is about the discipline needed to get on the mat, to keep bringing attention back to the breath and to keep our racing thoughts in check.
A balance of acceptance (Santosha) and discipline (Tapas) is vital in our yoga practice. But that balance is not always so easy to achieve.
Let’s talk about acceptance. Or contentment. We’re surrounded by messages that tell us to strive for more, better ourselves, accumulate and improve. Because of this we are far more familiar, and comfortable, with a sense of frustration and impatience than with contentment. Especially when it comes to how our bodies feel and look.
I work with people experiencing chronic illness and/or long-term conditions who sometimes feel frustrated, upset or irritated when their bodies can’t do what they want them too, whether that’s on a particular day or more generally. We work together to gradually build a sense of self-compassion and acceptance, recognising that every day is different.
We can only ever start from where we are. And that position often changes daily. Just because your starting point today is different from yesterday doesn’t mean you have gone backwards, or regressed…or improved, for that matter. You are where you are. And that’s ok. Because you can’t be anywhere different. Yoga helps by bringing us into the present moment, focusing on the breath, and cultivating self-acceptance and compassion.
Treating ourselves with kindness softens everything – both physically and emotionally.
And what about discipline? In the worlds of sport, exercise, and work, discipline often means pushing yourself to go further, faster, stronger or longer. Beating your ‘personal best’ and setting new goals to attain. It’s fascinating how easily our minds go into a competitive state thanks to all that social conditioning.
Discipline in yoga means something different. It means getting on your mat or getting yourself to a class even when you don’t feel like it. It means continuing to bring your awareness back to your breath and body when your thoughts run away with themselves. It means accepting where you are while also actively moving towards a state of balance in your body and mind. It means holding back when your mind starts to go into “further, faster, better” mode.
Discernment (the ability to judge well) is a big part of finding that elusive balance between acceptance and discipline. Too much acceptance and you might never get on your mat. Too much discipline and you start pushing yourself to the point of burn out. But you could also say that in order to be discerning, this balance must be present. This is just one of many positive feedback loops in the practice of yoga!
Santosha (acceptance) and Tapas (discipline) are two of the five Niyamas – inner duties towards ourselves as laid out in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. As you can see, they give guidance that stands the test of time – the ancient wisdom of yoga is so relevant to modern life.
I hope you find these ideas helpful in your yoga journey. I’d love to hear what you think.