Off the Mat: Gentle Discipline

Gentle Discipline

Early in the school year, my wily son and his 7-year-old co-conspirators figured out they could “trick” their teacher into extra recess by sitting longer. He says we’ve been sitting too long, and we say no, we can sit for 5 more minutes, and he lets us and then we get to go outside, my kiddo tells me with a sneaky grin.  When I ran to relay this story, his teacher laughed heartily – please tell him to keep tricking me! 

This teacher sees the value of bodies moving to encourage concentration on subjects like plant growth or ten frames. Bring the focus back, a little at a time. Train the body and brain to sustain attention.

My heart sings, this is what I do!

The Yoga Sutras describe the physical exercises of yoga – asana, what we know as yoga in the west – as sthira sukha. Steady and stable, easy and sweet. Move to stretch and strengthen so it is possible to sit in a stable yet comfortable position. Then the real work can begin: quieting body and mind so we can hear that still, small, guiding voice. Connecting inward and with others. Connecting with our purpose. Our dharma. Our reason d’etre. Our work in the world.

And for this, comfort in our bodies matters! The benefits of exercise are well documented. Discomfort – dis-ease – distracts from the work at hand, whether it be meditation, learning subtraction, installing flooring, cleaning someone’s teeth, enhancing shareholder value, teaching others, or learning ourselves.

And yet, we expect kids to sit all day. Adults, too. Tie ourselves to desk or laptop or steering wheel and consider this productive, necessary. Even when our bodies sharply protest otherwise, breaks are considered the distraction, not the lack thereof.

It’s a balance of gentle discipline – stability and ease – to set my task timer, focus for 25 min, break and stretch. Water in, water out. Easier in the morning, admittedly. As I slouch toward afternoon, focus wanes, along with positive habits. Get up and take a walk, heart and body prod. Sometimes brain listens. When I take a break and move, I’m healthier, more productive, and much more fun to be around. By taking better care of myself, I better care for others. My son, my hubby, my friends and family, and community benefit.

The poet Marge Piercy writes, “Our work in the world is as common as mud.” My work includes baking for the PGO and shuttling muddy boys home from camp and calling my Senators as much as planning classes, seeing clients, easing suffering, restoring wholeness. My work in the world is more than my job.

I strive to teach my boy by example to approach life with steady sweetness. Constantly falling short, like a second grade attention span, I bring my focus back. Train my brain to follow my heart’s lead. It’s a balance of gentle discipline. Stability and ease.

Photo credit: [Khuroshvili Ilya]


Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In “Off the Mat,” Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.

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