The Discipline of Less
v.13 | Practicing the minimum daily requirement.
My first consistent yoga teacher was Larry Shulz, a renegade Ashtangi affectionately called “The Rocket Man.” He earned this eponym for the particularly explosive and gymnastic breed of practice he developed while on tour with The Grateful Dead. Larry would advise me and his cadre of devoted students to do the “MDR” or “minimum daily requirement,” even if we couldn’t squeeze a full class into our busy days.
At the time I scoffed and thought (as I leapt into my tenth handstand of the day): “why would you do the minimum when you could do more, more, more!?”
Raise your hand if you too are an over-doer. Put it back down if you’re exhausted from always doing.
These last years, months, weeks (time is so darn malleable) have taken their toll. Many days I make it to my mat and am too effing tired, too filled with dread or grief, too angry and hopeless, too this or that. And in the midst is a gift: I finally see the wisdom of an MDR. I realize there is discipline in showing up whether I feel like it or not, intentionally presencing my body, breath and focus. The MDR I’ve adopted as my own is, drumroll please…showing up to the mat.
That’s it. That’s the minimum. I roll out my mat, stand at the top, press my hands together in prayer, and that’s plenty. Some days what flows is a 20-minute śavāsana break. Mmhmm, you read that right. I lie still and flat, or propped up and supported and that’s practice enough. Other days my limbs unfold into primary series, or a combination of standing poses and restorative ones. Still other days I sit down for a short breathing sequence.
The juice of doing the minimum is in the consistency. It is maintaining the rhythm of practice, the mindset of awareness, and the heart of connection.
An MDR is a self check-in. A pause. A moment to notice the creaks and groans, the heartaches, joys, thought trains and if I’m lucky, to humble myself at the feet of the Universal altar to remember I am alive and kicking. Showing up to the mat with intentionality and the full spectrum of human experience serves as a touch point — a helpful reminder that doing a little is actually quite a lot.
An impactful teacher’s lessons unfold over the years, spooling out like a thread as we weave the tapestry of our lives. Larry used to say "yoga opens doors." It’s taken me at least a decade and a half to realize that some of those doors only open with a gentler, quieter, less-is-more approach.
P.S. If the discipline of simply showing up calls to you, join me for a week of practice in Turkey this Fall. There will be opportunities for Mysore, as well as more restorative, intuition-building sessions, coaching, mindful meals and adventure.
Every Sunday at 5pm PST, head to Jeff Warren’s YouTube channel for a guided practice in…nothing.
“The world is filled with so many interesting things! People doing stuff, going places, making things happen. It’s all very exciting. This is not about any of that. Welcome to The Do Nothing Project. An experiment in … not much. Together.”
Lizzie Lasater sends a weekly newsletter to support space for rest and relaxation. She occasionally partners with her mama, the one and only Judith Hanson Lasater, to guide you into mindful stillness.
“You can take a step and touch the earth in such a way that you establish yourself in the present moment; you will arrive in the here and the now. You don’t need to make any effort at all. Your foot touches the earth mindfully, and you arrive firmly in the here and the now. And suddenly you are free—free from all projects, all worries, all expectations. You are fully present, fully alive, and you are touching the earth.
Try this: Breathe in and take one step, and focus all your attention on the sole of your foot. If you have not arrived fully, one hundred percent in the here and the now, don’t make the next step. You have the luxury of doing this. Then when you’re sure that you’ve arrived one hundred percent in the here and the now, touching reality deeply, then you smile and you make the next step. When you walk like this, you print your stability, your solidity, your freedom, your joy on the ground. Your foot is like a seal. When you put the seal on a piece of paper, the seal makes an impression. Looking in your footstep, you see the mark of freedom, the mark of solidity, the mark of happiness, the mark of life. You can make a step like that because there is a buddha in you—buddha nature, the capacity of being aware of what is going on. There is a buddha in every one of us, and we should allow the buddha to walk.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh in Tricycle Magazine
Yoga teacher and activist Octavia Raheem offers guidance through endings, beginnings, and uncertainty in her tiny tome, Pause, Rest, Be. She encourages pausing so that we can gather ourselves and our resources to courageously face what lies ahead.