Freedom Within Constraint

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad little unsexy ways, every day. — David Foster Wallace

Well said Mr Wallace! Have been thinking about the relationship between freedom, discipline and constraint recently. When Viral and I started this period of retreat we hoped that the yoga, meditation and writing process would inform and inspire each other. It’s been really rewarding to have those connections leap to life, and to attempt bringing insights of one into the other.

Viral reminded me of another Rajivism yesterday. Our yoga teacher would often masterfully perch us on the precarious limb of an intricately demanding pose and as we stood there praying for balance, gasping for breath,  he’d fire a terse order: ” Find the freedom within the constraint”.

Sometimes that meant something as simple as remembering to breathe. To relax the muscles of the forehead and the throat. To smile. And to feel the subtle but shockingly immediate, freeing effect of these things.

Thirty-odd years ago, a small eye clinic with 11 beds found itself in an uncomfortable position. Cash flow was severely limited.  Bank loans had been refused. Family jewelery had been pawned, a house mortgaged. Finding freedom within constraints to this clinic meant choosing audaciously to serve patients without demanding pay. It meant giving what you had fearlessly. It meant you worked Saturdays and sacrificed your Sunday as well. Strapped a cubicle to the top of a bus on weekends, rode into villages, did cataract operations in schoolyards.

Today that little clinic in southern India is the largest eye care facility in the world.

I think suddenly of Matt Sanford — who was just thirteen when a car accident that killed his father and sister left him paralyzed for life. After 12 years of shackled existence at 25 he stumbled into yoga and within the unforgiving confines of his physical condition would miraculously go on to become one of the most accomplished practitioners and teachers of our times.

Finding places of movement within a conditional environment is truly where it’s at. And at this intriguing intersection of imposed restriction and disciplined awareness, a compassionate art can be born.


4 thoughts on “Freedom Within Constraint

  1. susy stewart says:

    I found this incredible blog – perhaps my first beautiful and so right on

    freedom within the constraint

    and Bill and I are off to a workshop with Matt Sanford in 2 weeks

  2. Anita says:


    This post means more to me than you would realise. At a time when I find the confines and constraints imposed on me by my everyday life are threatening to make everything I do seem insignificant and ignored, your post has lit a spark. The quote is a reminder that I need to find my freedom too within this life that I need. Thank you:)

    • pavimehta says:

      Dear Anita —

      Glad the reflections here struck a chord…and am sure you will find the movement within limitation wherever you are 🙂 it’s a continuous and dynamic process for sure!


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