Everyone wants to be happy. It’s one thing we all have in common. We take full responsibility for ourselves when we recognize that nothing can “make” us happy. We can’t force happiness, but we can take steps to make it more likely to manifest in our lives. It is a process, it takes practice, and it helps to use a system that speaks to us.
Yoga is actually a whole system of practices designed for skillful living. It is described in The Yoga Sutra as The Eightfold Path. Skillful actions are good for us and make us stronger. Unskillful actions weaken us by going against our true nature. These actions cause their own reward or punishment.
The path begins with the five Yamas:
• Ahimsa: non-violence. Cause no harm to ourselves, to other living things, to our surroundings.
• Satya: truthfulness. Being true to ourselves in words and actions.
• Asteya: non-stealing. We see it, we want it, but we can’t just take it. We have to work toward it.
• Brahmacharya: moderation in all things. Using our life force in a way that promotes wholeness.
• Aparigraha: non-hoarding/ non-accumulation of “stuff.” Simplifying our life and thoughts, loosening our grip, making room for new growth to come into our lives.
The second branch consists of the five Niyamas:
• Saucha: purity/clarity. Keeping our mind, our body, and our surroundings clean and clutter free.
• Samtosa: contentment. With what we have and who we are.
• Tapas: self discipline (literally meaning heat). A burning desire to do what it takes to get it done.
• Svadhyaya: the study of ourselves and of inspirational works to find wisdom that applies to our own lives.
• Isvara pranidhana: devotion to a higher truth. Letting go of ego “I, me, mine” and focusing on the divine that is within as well as all around us.
The postures, Asana, are the third branch. These are an excellent way to stay strong, balanced, and physically healthy. They work the tension from our muscles and ease our aches and pains. Our mat can also be used as a training ground to incorporate all of the branches. Our job is to, as Nike says, “just do it,” even if we don’t feel like it, especially if we don’t feel like it. We can then apply what we learn to the rest of our lives.
Pranayama is our breath, the bridge between our mind and body. This fourth branch is a tool that is always with us. There are many specific breath exercises, but simply breathing with a long slow full and complete breath as we move through the postures nourishes us, relaxes us, and gives our body a chance to rest and repair itself. It is amazing how healing it is to bring our attention to this automatic function. We then get into the habit of paying attention to our breath through out the rest of our day.
Pratyahara is turning our attention inward. This fifth branch is about pausing, stepping back, and unplugging—whether it be from TV, radio, computer, phone, the things we do for other people, the images we have in our head of how life is “supposed to be.” It gives us a chance to hear that voice that comes from within and tells us what is right for us.
Dharana is focused attention. It could be anything; an absorbing project or skill, a book, a candle flame, an image, a sound, our breath, and of course, my favorite, movements linked to our breath (yoga). The sixth branch is about learning to step out of time and enter “the flow,” the timeless now.
Dhyana is meditation. As Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph. D. says in her book My Stroke of Insight, “My stroke of insight would be: peace is only a thought away, and all we have to do to access it is silence the voice of our dominating left mind.” The seventh branch helps us to “tend the garden of our mind.” We have a choice as to what goes on in our own minds; we can disconnect from those negative thought loops that play out in our heads.
The eighth and final branch is Samadhi. This is a profound connection to the Divine, interconnectedness with all living things, that feeling of oneness with the Universe, a state of ecstasy or bliss, that feeling that “This is it!” Many consider it to be happiness that is deep and true.
Happiness can happen accidentally, but why wait for something to happen at random? If we switch off our inner “auto pilot” and stop simply cruising through life, we can use the Eightfold Practice of yoga to bring moment-to-moment awareness to our actions, movements, breath, and thoughts. By making this conscious choice, we set the stage in our lives for happiness to happen more and more often.