The Gift of Discipline

“True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline”

~ Mortimer J. Adler

According to Patanjali, the ultimate goal of yoga is freedom from suffering. Through the lens of our sadhana (yoga practice) we see ourselves, and the ways in which we contribute to our duhkham (suffering). And through the ongoing practice, we reduce negative patterns and build inner strength to face the obstacles and challenges that inevitably arise.

The sage advice from the Yoga Sutras is that this process of creating self awareness should be gradual. If we work step by step towards our goal, we won’t lose heart along the way, because we won’t bite off more than we can chew. Great intentions alone do not create real change in any realm, and so it is with our sadhana. It is the sum of all our small, positive actions that creates real and lasting change, gradually reducing our duhkham and creating the habit of self care.

To help us develop and deepen our sadhana, Patanjali prescribes kriya yoga – the yoga of action. This three step process consists of tapas, svadhyaya and ishvarapranidhana.

Tapas has many meanings: taking action, discipline, heat, or purification. As you can see, it implies some intensity. The action it refers to is an action that helps you to see your patterns, and reduce the harmful ones. Tapas requires intention, so that the action is not random.

Following our actions, we reflect, and we gauge the impact of what we have done. That is the process of svadhyaya – self awareness, seeing the ripples. Svadhyaya helps us to determine the usefulness of what we are doing, and gives us the opportunity to refine our actions.

But no matter how hard we try, and no matter how earnestly we practice, there are things we cannot control. Some days we may struggle to focus, or the body just isn’t willing. On such days we simply have to do the best we can, be kind to ourselves and trust that our intention will be enough. Other times, when things just seem to flow, we might get caught up in feelings of pride and accomplishment. On these occasions, we have to bow to the energy that supports us, offering gratitude for our healthy body, our focused mind, and our access to the practice. This attitude of surrender is the third aspect of kriya yoga – ishvarapranidhana.

Kriya yoga is a valuable tool in our personal sadhana. It reminds us to move at a pace that is conducive to ‘seeing’ ourselves in action. As a feedback loop these three aspects teach us that when we pause to notice the effects of our actions, we will find clarity, and form an understanding of the things we can and can’t control. This understanding informs our future actions. The cycle continues, and gradually takes us deeper into our inner terrain.

The yoga sutras form a road map to guide us on our yoga journey. The ultimate destination is freedom from suffering. Kriya yoga helps us to explore the landscape, and step forward each day with awareness.


~ Lynda Miers-Henneveld

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