The New Definition of Discipline

The word, ‘Discipline’, for most of my life, has conjured images of the diets I failed, the workout plans I didn’t finish, the half-read books always staring at me from the coffee table, the unwashed dishes, and all the other evidence that I was inherently flawed.


One evening, while listening to a talk by Pema Chodron, I heard her say, “discipline is conduct that deescalates suffering”. Those words offered a shift in perspective. I realized I had discipline in a few areas of my life, and rather than being a struggle, discipline felt good.


I’m a sober person and a yoga practitioner. These two practices have been the guardrails of my life. I didn’t recognize them as a discipline because they didn’t feel heavy. Discipline, I thought, was supposed to be heavy, 5 am runs, raw vegan diets, and anything else that felt like a price that I couldn’t or wouldn’t pay. (no offense to my raw vegan marathon runners out there).


Now realizing that I may have been wrong about the definition and purpose of discipline. ‘Discipline’, used as a verb, is defined as, “To train or develop by instruction and exercise, especially in self-control.” -Merriam-Websters.


I thought the solutions in my life need to be an event. Occasionally I wake up in the middle of the night with bold ideas of how I’m going to do a hard reset on my life and instantaneously all my problems will fall away. (I blame 90s sitcoms and their insistence that complex issues could be solved in thirty minutes and we’d all still have time to make it to the big dance) I have rationalized the most incoherent nonsense in the pursuit of this and society is happy to cosign this mess as long as I pay for the shipping on my latest quick fix.


Thankfully, through sobriety, the practice of yoga and its accompanying eight-fold path. I’ve seen myself change slowly. I’ve seen the impact of being committed to and disciplined about my practices.


My life wasn’t perfect the day after I set that glass down. It didn’t look much different after a few months of yoga either, but I had “deescalated my suffering”. A life that seemed unlivable without the warmth of an ever-present buzz and a body that felt foreign to me were now both things of the past. I learned I could exist in this body, take part in the world, and even experience occasional contentment. Sobriety gave me a mind clear enough to absorb yoga, yoga gave me a set of practical tools to anchor my life and discipline opened the door to both. Being disciplined about my practices has given me the tools necessary to create a life through agency and intention. You do not need to be a person in the throes of addiction or any other major life issue. The perspective of discipline as conduct that deescalates suffering creates fertile ground for incremental change, be it big or small.


Maybe you’re well adjusted and this whole spiel makes you say “Duh, Achola, that’s what discipline does”. Mazel Tov, my friend. I’m talking to my fellow dented cans, those of us who are still usable, albeit rough around the edges.


If you are anything like me, you’ve probably always excelled at beating yourself up. Even now, I can turn anything into a weapon for self-harm. That’s why for so long I equated discipline (and my perceived lack of it) as just another chapter in the book of why I’m a crappy human.


So, for those of you in my boat, I believe a reminder of the possibilities held within a discipline is in order. Maybe, rather than viewing discipline as a tool of self-flagellation, a reminder of our ever-present insecurities, or another task on the to-do list. We can choose our disciplines from a place of deep love and recognize them as sacred. Whether it’s through our time on the mat, our meditation pillow, or simply committing to make the bed every day. Discipline is an invitation to agency and contentment.


Life offers us very few assurances. The past few years have shown us the capacity for unexpected sweeping change that we have no control over. Disciplined commitment to our practices gives us the structure needed to sustain ourselves during these times. Instead of a weapon, discipline can be a balm, sacred areas we carve out for ourselves that become our anchor. Discipline is our autonomy over this vast and complex life, the foundation we build on knowing that because it was our choice in the first place, we can continue to make that choice no matter what life throws our way.


I invite you to consider making your yoga practice a discipline.


I’ll see you on the mat.


-Achola