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The Role of Discipline in Happiness (and Yoga!)

“Often people think discipline is against comfort.
Ironically, it’s the discipline that brings comfort to one’s life.” —Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Yoga is what happens when you are in the moment, so totally at ease and in peace. So what is yoga? It is chitta vritti nirodaha—Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind, according to Patanajali’s Yoga Sutras. Yoga means uniting with your source. This happens when the mind, which is chattering all the time, suddenly becomes silent.

Yoga is called a discipline. When does the need for discipline arise? Discipline arises when something is not very charming to begin with.

There are three types of happiness. One is Sattvik—happiness which is not pleasurable to begin with, but ends in joy; Rajasic—happiness that seems to begin well but ends in misery; and Tamasic—there appears to be happiness but in reality there is only misery from beginning to end. No discipline is necessary for tamasic happiness. Wrong discipline results in rajasic happiness. For sattvik happiness, discipline is essential to begin with. It need not be uncomfortable all the time. But if it is uncomfortable, then you should be able to bear with it. You need discipline. That is why Patanjali begins with the present, when things are not clear and when your heart is not in the right place.

The discipline of yoga is nobody’s imposition, it is self-imposed. Shasana means rules someone imposes on you. Anushasana is the rule you impose upon yourself. When you are thirsty and want to drink water, you do not say “Oh! This is a rule; I must drink water”. When you are hungry you just eat. When it comes to the question of enjoying oneself, no discipline is necessary. When you are happy, when you are in peace or happiness, then you are already in yourself. There is no discipline there. But when the mind is wagging its tail all the time, then discipline is essential to calm it down. The fruit of it is eventually blissful, joyful. Like a diabetic saying, “I have the discipline not to eat sugar.”

There is a lot we impose on ourselves—every morning we wake up and brush our teeth, and brush them again before going to bed. But these have been self-imposed from childhood by your mother. Once it became a habit, you understood it was for your own good. And then you found it was no longer your mother’s rule, but your own. In the same way, keeping yourself clean, hygienic, exercising, meditating, being kind, considerate, etc.—all these rules you have imposed on yourself are discipline.

Yoga is the act of restraining or freeing the mind from the clutches of the modulations of the mind. There are five types of modulations of the mind—wanting proof for everything, lack of comprehension, imagination, sleep, and memory. All through the day, your mind is in one of these modulations. But, if there are those moments when you are not sleeping, not remembering old things, not imagining, or looking for proof, then that moment yoga has happened.

At that moment what is happening? You are just by yourself in the journey of your own self, which is the source of joy or source of love or source of peace and knowledge. This happens whenever you are watching the sunset or when you experience beauty in your life or when you experience a lot of energy in the body. This also happens after pranayama (breathing techniques) or during meditation. The mind is then free from all these five modulations. That is why when you do yoga asanas you put the body, mind, and breath in one rhythm. That is when real yoga is happening and you are with yourself.

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Original article originally posted on srisriravishankar.org.