Yoga broke me like a wild horse.
When I first started practicing you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near me.
I would grunt, look around the room, sigh loudly, roll my eyes, put my hands on my hips, glare at the teacher and leave in a huff. It’s fair to say I had an undisciplined yoga practice.
I told myself over and over: I’m never going back there. This yoga is horrible. Never again. What is that teacher’s problem anyway? Why does it need to be so GD hot in there?! This can’t be safe. I hate this yoga. I’m fat. The people around me are annoying. Ahhhhhhh!
I was an actual hot mess.
The key to transforming my body and practice was through creating discipline and consistency. When you cultivate discipline in your yoga class, it will be the key to a happy relationship with yoga, your body and mind. The ripple effects of disciplined mine in yoga class, will extend far beyond the four walls of the yoga room.
Use pranayama breathing to clear your mind of anxiety
Have you ever noticed that in a Bikram yoga class you spend more time doing the initial breathing exercise than any other posture? There’s a reason. In addition to bringing fresh oxygen to each part of your body, this breathing exercise helps rid the mind of negative thoughts and doubts which will in turn help cultivate discipline in your practice. Focus on a deep and hard exhale. This will set up your body and mind for the next 80 minutes of class.
Your forehead is home base
Since you look at yourself for most of class, I like to relax my eyes slightly and focus on my forehead. This provides a focal spot and is less jarring than staring at my own eyes for 90 minutes.
When you’re exhausted, feeling anxious, angry or overwhelmed, keep your eyes focused on your forehead. It’s easy to look around the room in these moments, but this will make your class harder than it needs to be (and distracts the people around you). When you look around the room you take the focus away from yourself, and new thoughts pop into your head like the cute shorts on the person next to you, the hairy guy in the front row or worse the “annoying teacher.”
If your heart is racing like a crazy wild horse, just keep focused on your forehead and breathe. This is your home base.
Fidgeting helps no one
It seems like a little bit of relief, a little treat. The room is hot, your lungs are trying to catch up with the oxygen your body is demanding and suddenly it’s really important to move that piece of misplaced hair. I get it.
But fidgeting is a symptom of other things going on, usually unnecessary thoughts in your head. Focus your eyes back on your beautiful forehead and breathe. Before you know it you’ll forget about your hair all together. It is in these intense moments that you really cultivate discipline. It only takes a few tries of breathing through these hard movements to realize that fidgeting doesn’t help anyone in class.
Practicing on a regular basis is a great way to achieve mental discipline in your practice. The best part is “baseline” of discipline you cultivate over the years of your practice can never be taken away from you. Maybe as your practice evolves you practice less, your focused mental discipline will never go away. In my opinion, this makes cultivating discipline all the more rewarding.
You have to want a disciplined practice
Every yoga studio is different and emphasize different things. In order to cultivate discipline you have to know it’s many benefits and work at it. Just showing up for class won’t result in a disciplined practice.
Using discipline makes your yoga experience more enjoyable, class becomes easier, and it also helps your life outside of yoga class. You’ll be a more focused employee, a better partner and parent and make healthier choices for yourself. If you struggle with eating bad food, don’t go on a diet, go to yoga class!
Skip the water
I mentioned this in another post about “secret tips” for Bikram yogis. If there is one spot to skip drinking water in class, it’s the “party time” water break before the standing series. The first three postures are designed to get all the bats out of your head. Rid yourself of all of those unnecessary lingering work thoughts, family woes etc. So when you reach down for your water bottle and look around the class before the standing series, it’s easy to have a rush of new thoughts flood back into your head. You should be well hydrated before class and skipping the water will allow you to catch your breath and have a strong and disciplined standing series. (More on drinking water during hot yoga HERE.)
Discipline is not control
Since Bikram yoga attracts a lot of type-A folks, many people confuse discipline with control. Just think about the imagery you get when I say he was a controlling parent and he was a disciplined parent. Different images come to mind, yes?
I like to think about it this way, a disciplined mind allows us to decipher what is necessary and what is unnecessary. It starts in class. When you first start practicing you think it is necessary to move that piece of wily hair. Then over time you realize that moving your hair is just a distraction (it’s not necessary) and makes class harder by doing extraneous movements and distracting your mind.
If you’re exerting control over yourself, it’s associated with being strict, over bearing and rigidity. A parallel can be found when it comes to my approach in food. I noticed a distinct transition from going from being a controlled eater (not a good thing) to a disciplined eater (a healthy thing) after practicing yoga. I now still indulge in foods, and also know when it’s necessary to eat something and when it’s not. This is much different than being restrictive with my diet.
Standing Head to Knee is where it’s at
This posture, above all others, is key to cultivating discipline. As I mentioned before, the opening breathing exercise and three postures helps prepare your body for the forthcoming postures. It’s common to have a bunch of thoughts flying around your head for those postures. When you transition into Standing Head to Knee, you can use this posture to set the “mental tone” and discipline for the rest of class.
Try this simple yet powerful exercise: When you start this posture, think about keeping all thoughts free from your mind. Don’t let self doubt, work or family struggles enter your head. If they sneak it, let the thought pass and hone back in on locking your standing leg and a relaxed consistent breath. Go back to the center of your forehead and just breathe.
If you do this, each and every time you practice this posture, you’ll notice class flies by after this posture. You’ll get in a mental groove, some call it a meditation, and can move fluidly throughout class without extraneous or unnecessary thoughts. It doesn’t matter if your mind was bouncing around like a ping pong ball for the first couple postures of class, by the time you’re done with Standing Head to Knee pose, nothing can steal your peace.
Discipline becomes effortless.
The more you practice, the easier discipline becomes effortless and second nature. Just like the postures!