Good habits take gentle discipline

spiritual blog


For many of us, summer is synonymous with time-off, disconnection from everyday life and perhaps some traveling out of town. Like anything else, there is a time when summer comes to an end. We are not there quite yet, but undeniably, it is approaching. 

Here in Denmark, this particular week of the year marks the time where many kids and grown-ups return to their weekly activities, school, work and so on. I remember as a child in France, August was the month where supermarkets started selling schoolbags and other writing and schooling equipment before “la rentrée”; the coming back to school after summer. I got somehow shocked each year by how quickly (and too soon!) school suddenly was approaching… again. Soon we would receive a letter from our upcoming teacher with all the things we needed to buy or find so we could be ready when the first day at school eventually would arrive, and with it a whole new school year… before the next summer holidays (too far away!).

For some reason, I still get a similar feeling each year. There is something special after summer, slightly different from the beginning of the new year, where new directions and plans start to align. As hard it might be to let the summer go, we have the opportunity to channel our energy and creativity into whatever we share with the world, working officially or not, during the upcoming months. 

How are you preparing for what’s ahead? 

Whether your plan is very clear, somehow clear or not at all, the ancient yoga teachings are quite explicit about how to prepare for what is ahead. The key does not lay in anticipating and calculating every single detail in advance. Rather, the answer is in practicing being present. It is only by fully entering this very moment, this current breath, this body sensation and welcoming ourselves fully back to ourselves that we can meet whatever might come our way.

The whole practice of “Yoga” (with a capital Y) on the mat, on the meditation cushion and into our lives, is a training away from the need to control and into the expansion of awareness of what is. Similar to other mindful-based practices, yoga thus helps us become more comfortable with who we are and we might discover is inside of us; sensations, feelings, insights… and simply presence.

It is then this awareness and increased familiarity with just being that makes us able to see beyond the limitations of our day-to-day mind and forges our ability to respond to what stands right in front of us in a given moment… with presence. 


Gentle discipline: the key to building good habits.

How to build or return to good habits? With gentle discipline.

As some of you might know, the ancient scriptures of yoga, “the Yoga Sutras” of Patanjali, point out two main pillars essential to practice yoga: commitment or discipline (Abhyasa) and detachment and surrender (Vairagya). We need both.

The practice is not just about discipline. We simply will not go very far if we are not willing to give in and let go of our grasping, e.g. about our identities, our objectives, our plans, our need for control, righteousness, etc. Asking for help, whether explicitly to someone, joining a group, or using a prayer, OM or an invocation mantra is a form of Vairagya.

Put together, these two pillars basically suggest that yoga requires “gentle discipline”: the effort of showing up and keeping a healthy habit going (abhyasa), on the one hand, and our willingness to hold the practice, our focus, and basically ourselves with the same humility and softness as holding a flower into our palms (vairagya), on the other hand. 

Commitment and vulnerability

As much as it takes commitment to reconnect to or build a new habit or practice, it takes vulnerability to ask for help. Of course, yoga studios, great teachers, healers, and guides of all sorts are out there ready to help and serve you. In the end, what is needed is your commitment… and the vulnerability required to ask for help and should the momentum of your commitment fade away. Reaching out and taking the first step is on us.

I find 12-step work for addiction recovery (AA-type) so inspiring in many ways. First, people in help need to reach out. No-one will ever approach you or advert to attempt to enroll you. Second, one of the essential keys in all their programs is to invite participants to admit they are not in control of their addiction or limiting behavior. They did the first step reaching out for help and taking the first step (Abhyasa), and they are also clear that not all the work is up to them alone. There is a greater intelligence and wisdom to be invoked too, which simply requires to be let in (Vairagya).

Yoga is no different. The dimension of surrender, in my opinion, is what really makes the practice of yoga unique in our modern world- and only makes it stronger and more powerful.  

A retreat for commitment and gentleness – Sept 2nd-4th

If you are reading this, you have already taken the first step and showed commitment. Now, could you use some extra support to a greater group, and get ready for what is ahead of you? Pernille and I would love to help.

We will be offering a weekend retreat to help you enter a new fall season inspired and fresh, with daily yoga, meditation, and poetry (including readings and short exercises of creative writing) Sept 2nd to 4th, 1h15 outside Copenhagen. The retreat is for everyone and is not a “writing” retreat per se. Rather it is an invitation to explore yourself and receive support for the body, the mind, the heart and the soul all at once. 

 Read more at Yoga, Wellness, and Poetry, Sept 2-4, 2022

Building a habit… individually and universally

Whether it is yoga, meditation or slowing down climate change, getting back to or creating a new healthy, transformative habit is not just about our willingness to do so.

Our willingness, or commitment is essential. However, we will not succeed and hold it for very long if we do not also include a greater force than us alone. This force can take the form of a good friend, an accountability partner, a support group, a yoga studio or class series, a retreat, a training or a deeper spiritual connection to a greater intelligence. It all starts with asking for help.

We like to think that we can build strength, lose weight, quit an addiction or learn a new skill by doing it all alone. There is a lot of support to collect in complementing our individual will with a larger, more universal support.

Connecting to an entity larger than ourselves and taking advantage from the energy or dynamism of a group is inherent to the quality of Vairagya, surrender and non-attachment. Such connection to something greater than ourselves is our direct access to what the yogic teachings and many other ancient spiritual traditions all include – the universal, the Absolute, the greater Consciousness underlying everything.

In the end, life is an invitation to dance with both ends of the one spectrum: individual and universal. 

Happy journey.

In metta,

Cédric

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