by Janna Leyde
Discipline. The word feels hard and fixed, full of right and wrong, no room to expand. It feels like school and guidelines and homework and phrases like “detail oriented,” all of which make me scrunch my face. Discipline is also the first word that comes to mind when someone asks: so what does yoga do for people with brain injury?
Anyone (my father) who has had their frontal lobe rocked hard enough to throw their executive function (decision-making) off kilter, is in major need of discipline. My dad lives his life in rules, namely what to do and what not to do. I thought that if I could make doing yoga a rule, then maybe he would follow it and we could tap into the other benefits of yoga meeting brain injury—identity, concentration, motivation, patience, happiness.
Don’t cut people off
Do cut the grass
Don’t eat snacks
It’s months later and my dad wants to Do Yoga. It’s not about doing something right or wrong, he just wants to. And, as I believed, his practice is starting to scratch the surface on all that the practice can teach him—identity, concentration, motivation, patience, happiness, but I wanted to know what he thought about all of it.
“Doing it all the time teaches me about discipline.”
“Discipline, really, Dad?” My father enjoys discipline as much as his daughter does. “What do you mean? I thought you liked to do—“
He cut me off.
“Discipline helps develop different things.”
Maybe I needed to revisit the definition of discipline. I can’t argue my father on the meaning of a word. (He’s still the kind of guy with a head full of information that you’d want at trivia night) Turns out, discipline is not only about setting limits or delivering consequences, but can be about developing. My very matter-of-fact father will tell you it’s all how you look at it.
Last summer was my summer of handstand and hanuman. I practiced each one each day. I was disciplined. If I didn’t slide closer to the floor each day—in trouble. If I thunked my foot off the wall—wasn’t doing it right. Wrong or right, pass or fail, every single day, until I got sick of it. I never got those poses.
Just this past weekend, my teacher asked us to slide into that familiar place. I scissored my inner thighs and popped up on my fingertips. I started the familiar breathe-slide-breathe-slide. Fail. I almost said it out loud. So embarrassed of my pose, I had stopped breathing. Time for blocks (first time in a long time—double fail). Then the pose started to find itself, and I didn’t care how close my crotch was to the mat, didn’t even care that this pose was nowhere near the hot and sweaty Splits Pose of summer, because for the first time I wasn’t scrunching up my face. I was experiencing something new in hanuman. Ease. Breath. Energy.
Since Sunday, I’ve practiced it everyday. I try not to concentrate on the right or wrong. I try to allow for a softer discipline. I am seeing what develops. And so far, this hanuman practice is more about my heart than my hips.
Janna Leyde is a yogi and writer living in Brooklyn. When she’s not on her mat or at the front of the room teaching, she is working on publishing her first novel, He Never Liked Cake, a coming of age memoir that tells the story of growing up with her father’s traumatic brain injury. Oscillations: A Yogic Exploration of the Brain offers her perspective on the practice through the lens of the complex human brain.