The words 'routine' and 'discipline' both have negative connotations for some people.
Routine implies boredom - we associate it with the mundane, such as 9 - 5 jobs, doing the school run, or putting the rubbish out.
Discipline can be associated with the phrase ‘be disciplined’, therefore connecting the word to punishment whether consciously or subconsciously.
However, both of these are essential for a healthy lifestyle.
When I first went from working a 9 to 5 job to being self employed, I thought having all of that freedom was the best thing ever - and it was! However, with the ability to do what I want, when I wanted, I wasn’t particularly efficient. I either ended up working far longer hours than I should or chopping and changing so much that nothing ever got finished and I felt that I wasn’t really achieving anything.
This is where routine is essential. It doesn’t mean that my entire week is set in stone and it doesn’t mean that I can never change what I do when, but it does give structure to my day. And routine isn’t just about work. It’s ensuring that I have time to do what I enjoy each day too as this aspect of our day is often ignored, but is an essential aspect of our well being
For me, realisation hit when I noticed that I functioned better around my regular yoga classes. Not just when I taught them, but also the planning as obviously I had to make time to do this before I taught the classes each week. So I created times when I would allow scheduling of consultations and private yoga sessions. There are also days / times when my website clients can book my time. I also make time each day to go to my allotment for an hour or so and ensure that I have a lunch break and a break in the afternoon every day.
Having proper breaks during the day is essential for me as I teach classes four evenings a week and often teach workshops and courses on the weekends. This means that I don’t get relaxation time at the more traditional times. This was the most difficult bit for me as years of being ingrained to sit at a desk Monday to Friday from 9am to 5:30pm meant I felt I was slacking if I didn’t continue with that regime. However, making that extra effort (having discipline), was absolutely worth it.
Having a routine doesn’t mean that you can’t deviate or that it can never change. Adaptability is also essential. Feeling that you absolutely cannot change because you have that routine isn’t healthy either and goes against the Yama, Aparigraha (non-attachment). For example, although I have set times that I will book appointments with clients, if they are unable to make those times due to other commitments, I will do my best to accommodate their needs at a different time. Your routine may also adapt as your life naturally evolves and this is how it should be.
What you are trying to create is structure to your life so you have balance. When we have some kind of routine we feel grounded and have solid foundations for both work and play. Without routine, we tend to get unfocused and get pulled in different directions, never feeling as if we are achievig anything.
When we constantly move from one thing to another, we are being controlled by our mind and our thoughts. Routine and discipline are ways of taking control; of having control of our mind rather than our mind controlling us - something I regularly touch upon in my yoga classes - yin in particular.
Feather, Brick and Truck
In Ayurveda, constant change and movement is caused by an excess of Vata. When we have an excess of vata we tend to be all over the place, unable to settle and may feel spaced out. If any of my clients come to me with this particular imbalance, one of the things I try to encourage is creating a routine. Trying to do particular tasks at the same time each day, or in the same order.
You may think that going to bed at a different time each day, or constantly changing from one activity to another is no biggie, but the majority of illnesses are also caused by a vata imbalance so it’s a good idea to tackle this as early as possible. This relates to the feather, brick and truck metaphor - life or the universe (however, you choose to view it) sends us messages throughout our lives; maybe about a path we need to take or a change we need to make. The first message will be a gentle nudge (the feather). If we ignore that message, the second will be a stronger nudge (the brick) and if we still don’t take notice, along comes that truck!
So What About Discipline?
To stick to a routine, we need discipline. It’s not easy at the start but the rewards are worth it. This might be going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. Making sure you have a lunch break every day. Making sure you get to that yoga class every week.
Discipline can also be about making sure other people know that you have blocked out time for you. This may just be some quiet time for yourself or saying you have a yoga class at 7pm on a Thursday night that you need to get to.
We often feel that we can’t say ‘no’. We are worried that we won’t be liked, that person may get angry with us or in the case of our jobs, we won’t be in favour with our boss and will be viewed as lazy. But at the end of the day, if you don’t make time for the things that make you feel good (regularly!) then you can’t be of help to anyone else.
A Regular Yoga Practice
A quick note on the benefits of a regular yoga practice in particular. This is taken both from my observations at a yoga teacher as well as from my own practice.
Doing an occasional class whenever the mood takes us or we have time (or both) may give us a short term feel-good fix. However, a regular practice is a completely different experience that has a completely different effect and one that is far longer lasting.
I know my yoga practice suffered during the lockdown as I’m not a fan of online classes and I know I need both the discipline of going to class rather than just doing self practice to keep a regular practice. Not having that as a possibility for such a long time meant that I can feel a difference both physically and mentally.
I also see the difference in students that regularly attend my classes. Those that do the same class(es) each week make the most progress. They are also less likely to change their mind about coming to class because they ‘don’t really feel like it’, as it’s their routine. Even if something happens to disrupt their routine, once that disruption has passed, they are far more likely to return. I saw this with some of my students that didn’t like video classes - they stopped their yoga practice during that time. However, as soon as in-person classes resumed, they were back to their previous classes and soon got their previous levels of fitness and focus back despite the break.
This doesn’t just apply to yoga, of course, but to anything that helps improve and maintain health and fitness. It could be a regular meditation practice, going for a run or going to the gym. These parts of our lives are extremely important so it’s worth using discipline to create a solid routine.
At this time of year, as many people create resolutions for the new year, often involving a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to really integrate it into your life in a manageable way to make sure it sticks!
I’ll leave you with a quote from Gandhi.
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
So if you are going to create new habits, make them good ones!