6 Yoga-Inspired Attitudes For Happiness
During these uncertain times of the pandemic, I decided to follow Aldous Huxley’s words when he said ’Experience is not what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you.’
When Coronavirus happened to us earlier this year, I told the kids at the school where I teach: “Today we are here together, but tomorrow this time of the day is called confinement because of a villain virus terrorizing humanity!” I squinted my eyes, they giggled, smiled at me, unworried, excited, confident. Everybody stays home and safe’, I thought, but I learned from the news that the rate of cases of domestic violence runs higher since confinement.
Unfortunately, there is not enough capacity to help, to care, to love. Where can women seek support if they are not allowed to go out? How do dysfunctional families function in times of restriction? How do large and poor families in small apartments negotiate space when they simply have none? What about the loss of their financial income, maybe their job and economic existence, our real political helplessness, the lack of trust in our porose democratic institutions, and the psychological stress of fulfilling multiple roles at the same time at the same place? It seems that the virus is not only threatening our health, but also our collective and very personal identity.
In India where I learned the spiritual practice of Yoga, I was given notions on happiness that stayed with me in the form of six phrases. When our body and our mind are threatened and we cry for love and mercy, cry for what is and become angry on what should be, the yogic notion of happiness could give some kind of hope and guidance – just like the wind that grows strong, gives fresh air to breath in deeply and that can destroy what is with a breath taking strike.
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1. I want to be happy with myself
Children are confident creatures and they are eager to find their life’s purpose and to give to the world their awesome uniqueness. When they grow older, they are educated, socialized, trained for the world, and for the time they live in by adults who want their (own) best.
The suffering starts when projections of other people do not align with our inner voice, when we experience restrictions we don’t understand and don’t want to have in our lives. Suffering also results from duties we don’t accept as necessary and useful, hence ignore them just to sabotage the process of becoming.
To be happy with oneself means to listen to our environment and to conclude wisely in the process of adjustment. The spiritual Hindu practice of SRAVANAM means learning though sound in the form of a teaching dialogue, singing mantras or self-studies (Swadhyaya).
2. I want to be happy with my body
We know very well that our body will get old and will loose the alluring sex appeal of youth; that we will become in the worst case insignificant for the ones we used to love and work for, but in the best case cherished and honoured. The fact that we will some day end decomposed in Mother Earth’s ground makes us hysterically afraid of physically fading away.
That’s why the industry creates images that hurt us so much that we buy nearly anything they sell us in order to stay young, dynamic and sexy. Of course, we should take care of our body and keep it healthy and beautiful: this is an act of self-love and appreciation for the gift of a well-functioning body.
However, aging is inevitable and a completely natural process. The problem is that if we identify too much with our appearance, we will get depressed one morning, looking into the mirror, finding the first wrinkles and hanging muscles: sticking to an image of youth means to get stuck in life.
We do not need to only live our life fully when we are young. We do not need to give up because we are aging; this is what the industry tells us and makes money with. We rather have to accept aging as a noble aspect of human life, full of wisdom, power and opportunities to grow.
The art of letting go of the illusion of eternal youth can be practiced with the method of the Sanskrit saying “neti, neti” (means “neither this nor that”). This method teaches us how not to identify with body parts (and also other objects we identify within our life) and consists in asking a question by pointing on different parts of our body: “If you would lose your hand, would you still be there?” Answer: Yes. – “If you lost your leg, would you still be there?” Yes. “If you lost your toe, would you still be here?” Yes.
It goes like this for all body parts and you realize at a moment that you are much more than your physical body. It works also for objects or relationships: “If you lost your house, would you still be there?” Yes. “If your partner left you, would you still be there?” Yes. If your parent died, would you still be there?” Yes. If your children move out, would you still be there? Yes. “If you left your workplace, your marriage, your children, this earth, would the others still be there?” Yes.
In the Hindu philosophical writing the Upanishads human beings have multiple bodies, notably five layers and three bodies in which we are present at the same time. Therefore, we are SAT (truth of multiple presence and not-empirical reality), CHIT (consciousness) and ANANDA (unlimited existence).
- Annamaya kosha (Anna (nutrition), Maya (existent), Kosha (sheath)) means that our physical body needs to be fed with the right ingredients to function well. The physical body is our outer body and not only absorbs water and food, but also energy and words from our environment. That is why Annamaya kosha stands for the five elements of ether (space), air, fire, water, and earth (check for further information here).
- The second body, the subtle body integrates three sheaths, which are Pranamaya kosha (vital layer), Manomaya kosha (mental layer), Vitnanamaya kosha (intellectual sheath). This second body comprises our perception, the use of our senses, and our breath as the ultimate life force. It contains also mind and unconsciousness and the development of intellect and ego.
- The third body is our casual body, Anandamaya kosha meaning bliss, silence, and ignorance. We attain this state in deep sleep where we experience our self detached from the finite world and in absolute harmony and beauty. This last body is the innermost layer, hidden and nearly inaccessible, but yet always present.
Thus, our appearance is a manifestation of all of these three bodies and five layers and our bodies’ truth is that our nature is formless.
3. I want to be happy in my relationships
The persons in my environment belong to nature and are in my life for a reason. They are my greatest teachers and I am theirs. As we experience projection throughout our lives, we are happy when we liberate ourselves from their vision of us. We need to stop imposing our vision on other people because in doing so we just make them unhappy. Loving my people means that I don’t judge, don’t expect, but accept them as they are. Loving my people also means to remain internally detached.
4. I want to be happy with what I think
Let us see our mind like an instrument we use to understand the world around us: in order to perceive the world in a pleasant way, it has to be open, simple and pure.
That means also that if we don’t like what we see, we need urgently to adjust our belief system. It is indeed helpful to understand that our mind sees what it is: if we are flooded by love, we will see love; if we are invaded by hatred, we will see hatred. Hence, reflection and meditation help us to relax our mind and to be aware that we are not all life’s colors, but that we are able to see them.
5. I want to be happy with my feelings
Happy feelings come and go like the waves of the ocean, and like the seasons or the weather, they are temporary. Sometimes they are strong, sometimes non-existent. The question ‘Can we catch happiness?’ is like asking if we can catch a wave. In the Buddhist perception love is nothing to acquire, but to discover with the help of experiences that evoke happiness or suffering. These experiences form us and build up a wise force that paves our way by accepting nature’s intelligence. Keeping the love means feeding the love with a Sattvic lifestyle and mindful practices.
6. I want to be happy with my life
It seems clear that health, happiness, and love are responsibilities we need to give ourselves first in order to spread it around us. It is also logical that we can only find our way with a clear mind, open heart, and functioning body. Only then can we follow our calling. Only then can we cultivate happiness.
Nevertheless, it is also true that our bodies and our life circumstances change permanently. Therefore it is important to embrace change with accepting what is and to move on if necessary.
Please find further information in the following sources:
HareKrsna.com: “Sravanam – Hearing”, (Access: 19.03.2020). URL: https://www.harekrsna.com/practice/process/sravanam/sravanam.htm
Frantzis, Bruce (2009): “Tao of Letting Go. Meditation for Modern Living.” North Atlantic Books: Berkeley, p.138.
Anthrowiki (2007): “Sat-Chit-Ananda”. (Access: 19.03.2020). URL: https://anthrowiki.at/Sat-Chit-Ananda
Bihar School of Yoga (2008): “Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Swami Satyananda Saraswati.” Thomson Press (India) Limited: New Delhi.
Nhat Hanh, Thich (2019): 5 Practices for Nurturing Happiness”. (Lion’s roar (ed.)(Access: 19.03.2020). URL: https://www.lionsroar.com/5-practices-for-nurturing-happiness/
Pure Flow Yoga (ed.) “The Gunas. 10 Tips for Living a more Sattvic Lifestyle.” (Access: 19.03.2020) URL: https://pureflow.yoga/new-to-yoga-beginners/day-13-tips-living-sattvic-life/
Leibrandt, Erica (2014): „No Mud, no Lotus“ in: Elephant Journal (ed.) (Access: 20.03.2020). URL: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/04/no-mud-no-lotus-poem/
Kabel, Olga (2017). Five koshas: How to gain access to hidden inner layers. In: Yoga For Your Mind (ed.). (Access: 18.08.2020). URL: https://sequencewiz.org/2017/11/29/five-koshas/
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