Forget Discipline; Become Devoted to Your Health.

I have been engrossed with Dr. Bonnie Ginitis‘ book Engaging the Movement of Life, which was a monumental book in my craniosacral training.  It seems like every other page contains not only brilliant insights relating to craniosacral, but is also endowed with great tidbits of spiritual and/or life wisdom.  One concept that really struck me was her description of discipline compared to devotion in regards to health.  This struggle is something I see constantly in my office, not to mention something I personally have difficulty with, so I thought I’d share Dr. Ginitis’ elegant way of distinguishing the two.

“Discipline is a tool many people choose to guide their behavior.  Following rules that have negative consequences motivates some of us to stick to a regimen.  But what do we learn from a rule applied by an authority external to our experience?  We only find out whether that rule works or doesn’t.  There is no adaptive quality to merely strengthening external influences to shape our lives.  Discipline offers a temporary support for accomplishing something.  This black-and-white form of guidance is not self-referential and therefore can’t necessarily be applied to the way we live the rest of our lives.

Being disciplined to run a few miles, go to the gym, or do an hour of yoga that has an agenda (burn calories, improve appearance, cure back pain) uses a referent of something that is wrong, and it won’t benefit us as deeply or be as effective as the same practices done from a sense of devotion.  It’s not as if there is no benefit from this type of discipline.  It’s just limited in its scope.  Its effect on you is diminished when it becomes a thing you merely put on your list of things to do in a day.

Using Health as your reference point, you move and exercise because you love to, and you care for yourself because you long to be cared for.  Choosing to be physically active based on appreciation and desire for health and pleasure allows you to express your nature- to be movement and not just simply to do exercise.  Since your nature is quite vast and varied, so are the unfolding effects of what you do from this place of devotion.

If you derive great pleasure from eating a good meal, you can choose to take a long brisk walk or go for a run as a way to support your health and enjoy eating without untoward effects.  What might look like the same act externally can be quite different if it is performed from a place of devotion, rather than in the atmosphere of discipline.  Exercising to burn calories because of a need to be thin is based on a negative self-image.  Repetitively engaging in this attitude strengthens your identification with an artificially applied standard, an image of yourself that is not based in Health.  Exercising to burn calories to support the enjoyment of eating and the pleasure of the way your body feels when you are conditioned is based on an internally generated sense of caring for oneself and the devotion to the joyful experience of embodiment.  This ultimately affects you in countless ways in the larger context of your life.

All too often what we do under the guise of caring for ourselves has an agenda, or an underlying story that defends our position as disease or damaged.  Although we may derive some benefit from this misdirected activity, this stance fortifies our defenses, preventing some part of the therapeutic value of caring for ourselves from influencing us as deeply.  We can fool ourselves and others into thinking that we are caring for ourselves when we are just maintaining an image.  It might be better to exercise with an underlying agenda than to sit in front of the television with a bottle of wine and a bowl of popcorn, but not if it fools us into thinking we are caring for ourselves.

What happens when the disciplined exerciser is unexpectedly prevented from working out by injury or illness?  If your distorted body image motivates you to do what on the surface looks like eating well and exercising daily, there will come a time when this plan no longer works.  A woman suffering from anorexia nervosa disguised as a long-distance runner might decompensate if she sprains her ankle and can’t run for eight weeks.  She is not exercising from a place of loving the feeling of caring for herself by being outside jogging.  Without the ability to run there may be no way to hide her anxiety about her feelings of inadequacy.  She has no sense of the yearning to care for herself without the cover-up of running.  She may become anxious, depressed, angry, or bitter with the inability to satisfy her agenda and maintain her image.

A man who lifts weights in the gym with his co-workers as a form of competitiveness will suffer if he tears his rotator cuff and requires shoulder surgery with a long recovery that excludes weight lifting.  His competitive agenda may interfere with his rehabilitation process, because his usual method of motivating himself to exercise is not really based in self-care.  His referent is outside himself.  He is not devoted to doing what’s best for his own health and well-being.  He uses his performance as compared to others to create discipline, and there is no way to apply this frame of reference to healing from an injury.

Two people walk holding hands on the beach 2-people-beach-shadows-002
mikebaird / People Photos / CC BY

The people who walk or jog on the beach every day because they are in awe of the beauty of the ocean and love to be outside can still enjoy this feeling if they are injured.  Of course, they don’t have to be happy about being injured, but they still yearn to care for themselves and are able to make peace with altering their routine.  They can drive to the beach, sit at the water’s edge and do their rehabilitative exercises, still enjoying being outside.  They can explore new ways to express their devotion to caring for themselves.  True happiness and satisfaction are not dependent on specific activities like running or weight lifting, but on whatever form self-care requires.

Having open-ended hope and devotion does not preclude the possibility of having a training goal.  It is completely reasonable to train for an athletic event or a backpacking trip by setting a schedule of increasingly difficult workouts and being motivated to stick to the schedule.  This scenario is a response to the necessity of the moment and can be engaged as a way of allowing your Health to support the activity you want to be able to do in the future.


Devotion to caring for yourself arises from a reverent sense within.  There is no endpoint, no goal to care, respecting, and loving yourself.  Being motivated from within to be attentive and attend to your Health as an expression of love and respect for your own life offers the gifts of the endlessly unfolding potential of being human.” 
(emphasis added)

What do you observe in your own life?  What in this excerpt resonates with you?

Stay Radiant,
Dr. Russell

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