Shifting from Discipline to Ritual

Approaching habits through ritual injects magic and spirit into our daily routines.

Photo courtesy of Elise St. Clair via Unsplash.com

Habits. If you’re into the world of self-improvement and personal growth, you’ve probably spent some time revising, breaking, and introducing new ones into your daily regime. Whether that activity is an exercise, doing something creative daily, or taking a quiet moment for oneself, in the beginning forming a habit can be a challenging process that requires energy and dedication.

And while that challenge is good and welcomed, after all growing pains are a thing—a slight mental shift can make the process so much more fruitful.

I’m talking about the shift from discipline to ritual.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been harsh with myself during the early phases of adopting a new practice. In the beginning and even years after my relationship with yoga, I would take a disciplined, almost militaristic approach to my yoga practice. Every day at a certain time I had to be on the mat. And while this attitude got me practice, which in turn helped me to achieve certain physical asanas, it also left me feeling shamed and disappointed in myself if I ever missed a day. I knew that my yoga practice should have more depth to it than physical satisfaction on days when I practiced and disappointment on days when I did not.

I began looking for ways in with which to include more sacred energy into my everyday. I realized I didn’t need to go around lighting incense or chanting around my house to get it either—I just needed to tweak my state-of-mind. My daily yoga practice became a ritual. It was an opportunity for me to connect to spirit—a chance I didn’t want to miss, not because it fulfilled a personal checklist but because it connected me to an attitude that I wished to cultivate more and more, one of wellness and peace.

Those of you who are invested in the world of self-care know about the balance between striving and surrender. It’s one that constantly needs revision. So on days when we surrender to our circumstance, when we are sick with the cold or an upcoming assignment from work, or when school requires our full attention, it’s ok to yield without guilt to the situation. Of course, intuition and honesty come into play here—deep down I believe we all know when we are making excuses for ourselves verses when we simply need a break. However being able to differentiate and listen is also an important skill to cultivate.

Discipline connects us to an action; ritual connects us to the energy and attitude that these actions generate. The physical activity in many cases could be the same, however, the attitude that one approaches the action makes all the difference. This slight mental shift still promotes daily activity while rendering a much richer experience.

Take, for example, the idea of the morning ritual. I see it and respect it in a whole new light now. Here we have people setting aside a special, dare I say sacred part of their day to cleanse, nourish, and ground themselves before they take on the ups and downs of the day. Here again, ritual saves us from the drags of routine. That cup of coffee is an elixir, preparing you for the road ahead. Ritual has the ability to inject magic and purpose. Ritual revives activities and brings fun into the everyday. As with many endeavours, the more you take it seriously, the more it gives to you. And on days when we need a break, ritual does not condemn us. It invites us the next day. No one is keeping score, there is only you, your practice and your moment to worship. 

The shift from discipline to ritual was a true gift that transformed my everyday activities from the mundane and liberated me from my inner critic. 

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Shifting from Discipline to Ritual