Discipline vs Motivation

It is important to analyze and understand the things which are effective on the path of Yoga. There are things that we think are effective and others which are actually effective. One such important distinction which should be made is between discipline and motivation. I am sure all of us remember listening to someone give a passionate speech or watching a motivational video on youtube and then getting fired up to transform our lives. We get charged up for grand goals like becoming the next millionaire or a virtuoso musician or even mundane ones like shedding those extra kilos. There is an elaborate plan which we then chalk out to achieve these goals. However when the time comes to follow through on our plans we end up procrastinating. It is a very natural state of affairs. The law of inertia applies universally and human beings are no exception.

Continuing from my previous post, this has to do with how emotions work. Motivation works at the level of creating a short term emotional spike. It provides an outlet for the potent cocktail of regret, guilt and anxiety in us which helps us remind us of what we should be doing with our lives. Emotions are by their very nature transient and it is difficult to sustain their highs and lows. So when the time comes to follow through on the motivation that we felt earlier, usually the same emotional state is not there and hence inertia takes over. In my experience, for any worthwhile goal motivation is usually not very effective unless it rests on a firm foundation of discipline.

Discipline is not very glamorous to talk about in today’s world. It is not a comfortable thought for most of us. It reminds us of the actual nature of success which requires a certain iron will to follow through with things day in and day out ceaselessly. We all admire people who seem to effortlessly attain grand things in life. Usually though there is a very strong work ethic & discipline at work in almost all of these cases. Even in nature change is always very slow and gradual. We only see the beauty of the butterfly emerging out of the cocoon. The real beauty however lies in the tireless struggle of the caterpillar against its very nature which transforms it into a butterfly.

Yoga is no different. Patanjali’s famous yoga sutras start with the verse ‘atha yoga anushasanam‘ which literally means ‘and now the discipline of yoga’. While there are several dimensions to this sutra and several interpretations of it, at a very rudimentary level it indicates that yoga needs discipline as a prerequisite. Even before there is a teaching given, discipline is asked for from the aspiring student. There is usually some confusion caused by the word discipline in the context of yoga. In the path of yoga, discipline doesn’t imply strict penance and asceticism. There is a lot of merit in moderation of sensory pleasures but a complete withdrawal from them is going to the other extreme. This is again our emotions at work. We must rise above the cloud of emotions to see the objective reality.

It took me time to understand the nuances of discipline in yoga. In the beginning there was a tendency for me to go overboard with things like fasting and pranayama. Over time I have realized that moderation in addition to being steady and regular makes for reliable progress. For a shishya initiated in a parampara, discipline is in following the rules of the path as laid down by the Guru. My Guru is a householder himself and he believes in moderation of everything in life. This ensures that slowly but steadily the disciple advances towards realization. As Lahiri Mahasaya used to say ‘Banat banat ban jai.’


4 thoughts on “Discipline vs Motivation

  1. I agree with your last paragraph about finding balance, nature has tried to teach us this since history began, I hope we can all listen and understand this very soon


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