HJ: While most see yoga as a purely physical practice in the West, it is actually a complete philosophy for and system of living that encompasses not just the body, but the mind and the spirit as well. While healing the physical body through the practice of postures/asana is an important component of Yoga, in order to receive the full benefits available in this context, one must also move into the realms of the mind and spirit, of which Yogic philosophy proportionally addresses. The article below is a guide to achieving greater happiness through applying the principles of Yogic philosophy to ones life. It is at once philosophical and practical helping you to understand the rationale behind what is being suggested.
Yoga and the Art of Happiness
“Happiness seems such a small thing when you have it, but when it’s gone you realize how big it really is.” – Gorky
The Art of Happiness teaches you how to look deep within yourself, usually in contemplation, to find peace and satisfaction. Sukha, inner contentment, is the deepest form of satisfaction. Experiencing your own bliss is the most profound peace. Our Yoga practice, our , supports the process by continually restoring balance in the mind body system at all levels of our being whilst Meditation and Pranayama, breathing practices, bring awareness of how tyranical our thoughts and emotions can be.
This is probably a good place to have a refresher on the subtle bodies of Yoga, where we experience ourselves at various levels of existence, the , or the 5 sheaths of existence: Annamaya kosha, the physical or flesh body (also known as the pain body); Manomaya kosha, the body of the mind and emotions, the lower mental body (also known as the mundane mind); Pranamaya kosha, the vital body of the breath or prana; Vijnanamaya kosha, the psychic, higher mental body or the body of the intellect, inspiration and wisdom; and, the bliss body, Universal Consciousness.
The Art of Happiness with Yoga involves trying to understand the nature of bliss, the deep inner peace that is the characteristic of Anandamaya kosha, the fifth level of being. This healing art embodies, actually physically being experienced in the body, the realization that happiness comes from within and is not dependent on material possessions or actual physical enjoyment.
So many of us have, for so long in our evolution as humankind, associated happiness with achievement of our desires, wants and expectations – and expecting the experience of elated excitement, almost jubilant and ecstatic, and permanent self-satisfaction. And of course the disappointment that follows the discovery that none of these feelings last, brings on a negative downer: we get bitter, disillusioned and tired. We just wear our emotions out in the long run.
Real, and sustainable, inner peace and joy for life does not involve effort or expectation and so never brings about tiredness or fatigue with life. Ancient Yoga texts describe complete happiness as a state of silence, where unnecessary thoughts and fears no longer trouble you: it’s a state of perfect grace, poise and freedom of choice.
Our practice in Yoga gives us our foundation for achieving these wonderful, sacred states of being: think of your inner state following Savasana or Yoga Nidra, it’s perfect for the necessary calmness of mind for contemplation. Think of the breath flowing as you practice your Yogasanas, try to associate this ease of effort and enjoyment with other areas of your life. Try to cultivate and maintain these wonderful states for as long as you can. And then, you’re ready to start the process of identifying consciously what perfect happiness really is.
Step 1: Feelings of Pleasure
Start by analysing what the feeling of pleasure actually consists of as you do something you enjoy. Is it the ease of breath flowing in your practice, for example, or the exhileration in the heart space? Is it the sheer simplicity of sipping hot tea and the calm space you’re in?
The Yogis attain to the fact that our actions bring us pleasure when they briefly evoke the inner silence that defines true happiness. The inner silence comes when all thoughts just vanish, right at the moment, say, when a goal or dream finally manifests or at the very instance of hard won success: your mind seems to “dip" momentarily into the sheath of “bliss". (It has been described as “the mundane mind crashing down".)
At the moment of “bliss" we experience positive sensations because temporary channels are opened up to the higher, bliss body sheath of our subtle bodies. This is the source of pleasure, and all likes and dislikes. But this feeling is temporary and can be the source of overindulgence, dependency and habit.
Step 2: Isolate Satisfaction
If you can learn to isolate and remember the brief moments of satisfaction then you can learn that you can generate this from within. This is a subtle action in growing with Yoga, whereby you learn to cultivate your own emotional happiness and satisfaction. You learn to free yourself from dependency on anything external: and this freedom is wonderfully empowering.
This empowerment grows and strengthens over time: it’s a healing process.
Step 3: Maintaining Inner Peace
At first you might not be able to maintain your inner peace for very long, but gradually over time and with practice your vulnerability to negative influences and energies will become less and less: allow them to weaken and your inner peace to strengthen.
With time and practice, your growing awareness of Universal Consciousness will give meaning and a coherence to all aspects of your life – bringing even the subtlest of life aspects together in a whole – as the life-distorting excessive feelings of likes and dislikes become less important.
And with Yoga you develop the art of maintaining inner peace at all times, and in all your actions. This calmness in action is the secret to attaining the “skill" referred to in the Bhagavad Gita. Your happiness is vitally important to your health, and to humanity, as it is part of your harmony with the whole.
Susan Ni Rahilly is the Founder of suZenYoga: Spirituality, Understanding, Zen, Energy and Nutrition through dedication to Yoga.