What does yoga have to do with happiness?
We often think that yoga is a way to learn to be more flexible, to build strong bodies and to teach us how to breath again. Or maybe we recognize that there is some sort of philosophical system that guides us toward enlightenment or nirvana. And all of those are kind of right. But yoga, at it’s heart, is a philosophy about happiness.
Yoga is the study of how I can each have sustained joy.
Yoga is specific on the fact that all we can do is try and create happiness for ourselves, not others. We like to think that doing things for others is good, and it is. But in the world of spirituality (and I’ll include yoga in here because it’s a study of the self), we must of necessity look out for ourselves first in the form of self-care, self-inquiry and self-reflection. This type of self-study isn’t self-centered, rather, it’s a necessary form of self-preservation. This principle is true in Energy Medicine as well, and I teach it all of my courses. We are only responsible for the path of our own soul, and only we can make ourselves happy (we can ask for help, but we must remain in authority). Only when we can fully take care of ourselves, to dive deeply and understand our underlying desires and motivations in order to steady the mind and live from the heart, can we truly interact with others in a way that benefits both parties.
And yoga is pretty clear on this. In yoga, the practice is about the self. Everything else that we do is motivated by the desire to have more joy for the self. It’s good to just get clear on this now. Doing things for other people that makes us feel like crap is counterproductive to our health. If we help people, we should do it because it makes us feel good. If we work a corporate job in order to make money, we should do so because it makes us happy. We do, of course, need to learn to have discernment between what brings us immediate pleasure with what brings us lasting joy, but we’ll get to this later.
Yoga is about how to have more happiness today than I did yesterday, how to have a longer period of happiness than I had before, and how to sustain that joy or happiness for longer and longer periods of time.
In most yoga classes, teachers will cue you to focus on your breath, inviting you to notice your thoughts but not let yourself get carried away by them. This is the practice of focusing your attention on one object so that it can be free from the attachments of distractions. We often think of it as mindfulness, but mindfulness is actually a Budhist principle that gets grouped in with yoga teachings. Mindfulness is an excellent tool for focusing our attention, for learning to understand the fluctuations of the mind, and for responding rather than reacting to a situation. It is not, however, the main principle for cultivating sustained joy, claims yoga.
The main principle of cultivating sustained joy, especially for householders like you and me, is through our relationships with others.
There are other tools – meditating on the Great Unknown, focusing the breath and the mind, entering into the practice of self-study, detaching from material objects, to name few. These tools are great for understanding our mind, and they do help us with our relationships, if a bit indirectly. These types of tools were the main tools used when all yogis wanted to seclude themselves in caves and ashrams. But you and I don’t do that (most days. I know about your secret “sick day” fort, because I have one, too). That’s because we are householders. So for us, when it comes down to it, relationships are the bread and butter of happiness. How many times have you come out of a wonderful meditation session, only to be thrown off by that nasty person at the bus stop, or by an angry partner, or by a phone call with the parents? And then you think, “I must not be meditating hard enough. Or focusing well enough.”
My teacher said that they way you know your yoga is working is if your relationships get better.
Yoga is known for its many great paradoxes – a breath that is both long and smooth, poses that are both energized and relaxed – but perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that although yoga is about more sustained joy for me, an individual, you and I often get the most joy (or suffering) out of our relationships.
So why don’t we just cut to the chase and work on relationships?
In order to have more sustainable joy for ourselves, we must:
- Sort out the past
- Cultivate satisfying relationships in the present
- Create a lovable future
Of course, within each of these steps are more steps. For example, sorting out the past includes forgiveness, releasing repressed emotions, making amends, clearing old energy, and consciously stepping out of old patterns that are non-serving. Cultivating satisfying relationships in the present includes learning the art of making requests, learning what our negotiables and non-negotiables are in relationships, learning the art of negotiation and becoming emotionally intelligent. Cultivating a lovable future requires a process called bhavana, a sort of meditative imagery processes that utilizes all of the senses, as well as a solid handle on the past and present. All of this requires we learn to balance present time pleasure with future happiness in order to make the best decisions for us.
I’ll be writing about these three things soon, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you’d like to get started on cultivating a lovable future, you can start by changing your energetic vibration. Use this free guided meditation video.