Tapas: Touching the Yoga mat counts

A case for a gentle approach to disciple in Yoga. Tapas means discipline.

I am a writer and for years I struggled to write. Don't get me wrong. I loved writing but every time I sat down to write my mind wanted to do something else. It wanted to eat or watch television or chat with someone on the phone. Then I read about an accomplished writer, Stephen Spender. An admirer asked him how he managed to write so well and so consistently. To this the prolific writer replied, "I make it a point to be inspired everyday at 9 a.m."

This story stuck in my head and I thought, "If it works for him, it should work for me too!" So everyday at sharp 9 a.m. I sat down at my desk, tapping away at the keys of my typewriter.

The mind loves routine

Now, over two decades later, at 9 a.m. you will still find me at my desk, my fingers dancing across the keyboard, my eyes blurry from staring at the screen!

Much has been said and written about discipline. But let's face it, no one likes the word. It conjures up images of military style rigidity. Discipline is, in fact, dynamic, it is flexible and fun. It is really about creating new habits. The mind loves routine. You can use time to condition your mind. That's why at 9 a.m. I can only think of one thing - yes, that's right, writing!

But I must be honest with you, though I sat at my desk everyday at 9 a.m. I didn't always write. There were times when I didn't feel like writing. I promised my mind, "If you don't feel like writing, don't." I'd use that time to edit something I had written earlier, or do a little research for a piece I was planning to write later. Sometimes my mind didn't want to do that either. I didn't want to fight with my mind, that would be violent, wouldn't it? So I decided, just thinking of ideas for new articles is counted, just switching on the PC is counted, and "Mind, if you don't feel like doing that either, don't, because just touching the keyboard is counted!"

Why everything counts

Don't fight with your mind, lower your own expectations of yourself. In a competitive world you not only expect too much of others, but also too much of yourself. We hurt ourselves and do not even know it. Train your mind gently, not with force. If you use force you will only strengthen impressions of self-violence.

When we start to practice Yoga, we begin with a burst of enthusiasm. We take on too much - too many asanas, long periods of meditation, too often. Then the untrained mind rebels and soon we miss one day, then another and another...until we have forgotten all about our practice.

Create a new habit gently. Fix a time for practice and stick to it. Do short practices, then gradually do them more often. And if you don't feel like doing it, don't. Just touching the yoga mat counts!

The Spirit of Dicipline

You can use this gentle method to create new healthy habits as well as break unhealthy habits. Don't make resolutions you cannot live up to. Go easy on yourself, take a day at a time. If you slip, don't condemn yourself, after all you are human and the best of us make mistakes. Forgive yourself and start all over.

The spirit of discipline is a unique response to every situation. If you are flexible, you will eventually evolve your own training programme to suit your unique set of conditions. When the head and the heart agree, that perfect coordination is called discipline.

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Frank from Cologne:
I hate discipline. And at the same time I know it is necessary to a certain extend.

Rolf from Stuttgart:
Very nice. First time I have come across this approach to discipline. There is no sense of guilt. This is beautiful and encouraging.

Krishna from Wernau:
Very nice article and guilt free approach to training the mind. But how does one ensure the mind does not use the touching the mat as an excuse to stay lazy everyday and avoid real practice. How does one mix a bit of firmness to ensure that the mind doesnt do the touching the mat all the time and gets back without applying too much force or violence?

Shibu K from Dubai:
Simpile article giving a goos insight about profit of uninterrupted practice. At the same time its telling about the minds function towrds practice.

Choi Yan from Uk:
I love discipline!
Mainly I love the effect of it and its ability to transform. I agree it is a fluid firey energy and not simply rigid dogmatic regimen but more a force for dynamic change in the direction of the heart. It fills us with more fire and faith seeing how much is possible in this life.
Thank you for sharing
Yan x

Suravi from Nepal:
A very creative and guilt free approach towards disciplining ourselves. Working with the mind like this sure ensures that discipline goes long way towards our goal.

Dave from Calgary:
Thank you for this sharing Radhikaji.
Again, it resonates deeply with my personal experience.
When I finally committed to and adhered to the practice in earnest there were specific teachings and instructions primarily from volume 2 of Path of Fire and Light that were very instrumental.
The first instruction was to set a time for meditation. As I spent time in the Minneapolis centre I set my time as 6 am and 10 pm at the time of initiation. This has proven indespansable.
The second teaching was around sankalpa shakti. Swamiji presented sankalpa shakti almost as a capacity that increases each time one fulfills a certain resolution and diminishes each time one fails to follow through with what they had resolved to do. In this light several principles emerged.
One was that one would be wise to be very cautious as to the commitments undertaken. Failure to follow through would not only compromise the pursuit but also one's sankalpa shakti as well.
A second was that habits can be transformed in small increments until a new pattern is established that every step is successful and nurturing to one's sankalpa shakti rather than exhaustive. For example, one could resolve to sit at a certain time but not commit to a certain duration. 'Touching the mat' would then fulfill the sankalpa and establish a certain pattern while increasing one's sankalpa shakti. Once established, a later sankalpa of sitting for a certain duration or completing a certain number of males etc. could be undertaken.
Another layer was that as sankalpa shakti could be considered a limited capacity at a particular point in one's development, to typically implement one major change or a few minor resolutions at a time would be wise. Otherwise one could risk dividing this quality among different pursuits potentially jeopardizing success in all.
This lead me to considering what habit was the priority and could be considered most beneficial in improving one's quality of life at a given time.
Finally, in an instance where a particular resolution was not amenable to incremental steps one could make a singular resolution and then apply and reapply oneself until the habit was established.
This guidance has been truly transformative. It has allowed me to successfully establish a habit at a time and gradually explore and implement successive changes after consideration with greater resolve.
The internal dialogue technique described in the Tradition has been valuable in considering which habit is a priority and what step would be appropriate at a given time.
I am ever grateful to the Tradition for this guidance!
Om Gurubhyo Namah!

Manisha from USA:
What I loved about this post in particular when I first read it was your sharing an example from your own experience. The story and the image of you writing -- or not writing if you didn't feel like it! :) -- helped to drive home the message each time I reflected upon this post in the days that followed. Not only is it helpful to create the space for something, but it is powerful to give yourself options within that space. Also, the story provides a wonderful example of how we can apply the formation of useful habits in one domain of life to other domains, including our yoga meditation practice. With regard to yoga meditation, I remember the first time I heard you talking about how 'touching the mat counts' during one of the public online meetings ... it resonated with me immediately. Initially, it's hard to believe that something so simple can be so transformative. However, in the last two weeks or so, I decided to give it a go. For me, gradually incorporating this option within my practice has been very liberating. For example, I noticed that often I accompanied my touching of the mat with the recitation of a short prayer or affirmation. Sometimes doing that felt right, but sometimes it would feel contrived. So I let that go and simply - yes simply - I allowed myself just to touch the mat! And that was that! Wow! Of course, I can still do a longer, more structured practice, but giving myself this compact option - sometimes even in my mind - has offered greater portability for my practice which has translated into greater consistency for my practice as a whole. Thank you for the idea!

Manisha from USA:
p.s. And it helps my overall approach to practice to feel more lighthearted and fun!

Balaji from Hofheim am Taunus, Germany:
A new insight and makes us realize that discipline is a perfect coordination of the mind and body.

A forced and rigid discipline methods are just crude reactions and enforcement of one's own ego to themselves and as well on others. Such a forced discipline is self inflicting, devastating to one's own mind and body as well to others.

On the contrary, discipline created as a habit with perfect peace and harmony of mind and body is fulfilling, long lasting, enhancing one's own life and realization of the goals.

This gives me a new perspective to create the required discipline as a habit that translates into joy than pain.


Meeta from Bangaluru:
An excellent article where it is not necessary that discipline always means being strict or harsh. I like the way how Radhika ji has used a gentle and systematic approach to implement discipline. This approach doesn't make my mind rigid rather, it helps me to be more flexible, calm, and one-pointed.

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