There's a lot of good wisdom in the early yoga texts, but they can be a little inaccessible if you're not into Sanskrit. I've found that our happiness and wellbeing are increased when we start noticing the many everyday ways that we can get small portions of happiness. Each portion builds up to give us reserves when life gets tough. Additionally, we can cultivate "inner strengths" to set us in good stead. These pages can help you find out more about the many small things that make a big difference. They're grounded in the yoga world but they are also informed by my readings in positive psychology and teachings in stress resilience.
Please note that this particular blog post is an on-going one. I'll be updating, linking to other pages, and editing it once in a while. If you're interested in learning more about yogic philosophy as it applies to our lives now, consider joining the private study group this March. We'll cover the Yoga Sutras and look at contemporary understandings and applications. You need not be a teacher for this. Just interested.
Start where you are
Feeling better about yourself and your life will depend on better choices.
1. Attitudes toward our environment (Yama)
Kindness Ahimsa, Truthfulness Satya, Moderation Brahmacharya, Non-stealing Asteya, Non-hoarding Aparigraha
2. Attitudes toward ourselves (Niyama)
Purity Saucha, Contentment Santosha, Enthusiasm Tapas, Self-study Svadhyaya, Surrender/ letting go Isvarapranidhana
3. Movement and exercise (Asana)
You know this one. Find a style you like and then do it. Regularly. It could be a stroll to work, it could be throwing balls for your dog in the park, it could be a 15 minute yoga practice at home first thing in the morning. Find what works for you, and if you don't know, keep trying out new things. Sign up to the local tennis club, join a running group (there are free ones in town), take up pole dancing, or meet with a friend for a walk instead of sitting at the cafe. See what makes you feel alive. Secret: it needs to be something you look forward to doing.
4. Getting fresh air and finding healthy ways to self-soothe (Pranayama)
Modern life makes self-soothing highly accessible: some of the options aren't so healthy for us long term. It's not what we're doing, but it's why. Online shopping is convenient. It can also be a way to give ourselves a boost when we're not feeling happy.... ditto for Netflix-watching/ TV, drinking to unwind from work, or smoking. If we do things habitually to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions then chances are we could benefit from a few new strategies. The yoga sutras recognised this need to move and process emotions. Pranayama is one solution to this.
5. Minimizing external stimulation (Pratyahara)
Alongside the above one, sometimes to quieten the mind, we need to develop ways to turn our attention inwards so that we can better self-regulate. We're using internal measures to soothe internal states (one definition of addiction is using external stimulus to regulate internal states). Pratyahara doesn't mean sitting on a hilltop and isolating yourself, because that's not always practical. It' a matter of getting better and turning your attention inwards so much that you're more aware of the sound of your breath and the sensations of your pulse than you are of the surrounding sounds.
6. Paying attention (Dharana)
In developing this one, you're improving your ability to develop focus. We start with using internal things (breath, pulse) as there's a double benefit to soothing yourself at the same time. but the magic here is the act of deliberately placing your attention on something and gently asking it to stay there. Your attention will wander. That's ok. The point is that when you realise your mind is a million miles away you quietly and kindly bring your attention back. Each time you do that, you reinforce the circuitry in your brain that asks you to hold your attention steady. Imagine what this can do for your relationships when you can deeply focus on the other person and what they're saying to you. Just being there with them, listening, and not thinking about what your response will be.
7. Using attention to understand the mind's chatter (Dhyana)
As you get better at paying attention and directing your attention, you can head to the next stage of this practice, which is noticing the contents of your thoughts. There's a huge monologue going on inside your head; much of it is quite self-critical and pushing your buttons. Start noticing what you're saying to yourself. What would happen if you regarded it as a movie on a screen rather than taking it seriously? Could you note the thought and accept that it might not be true? You don't have to believe your thoughts nor do you need to behave the way you're feeling.
8. Deep contentment (Samadhi)
With practice, patience, lots of good quality rest and time, you'll get there. Deep contentment is from letting things be as they are whilst still working towards things that matter to you. It's about minimising the distracting chatter and paying attention to what really yield the life you want. Deep contentment is realising that the goals you were after don't matter as much as the quality of your relationships around you and the relationship you have with yourself. Otherwise, once you get the promotion, buy the house, sell the house, reach your goal weight, you'll find other reasons to not like yourself and the goal-posts will move. Think of accomplishments you've already made. Do you remember how you promised yourself that you'd be happy once you finished that exam, passed the test, started a relationship, ended a relationship? It gave you temporary relief or joy but it wasn't deep contentment. Chances are the underlying motivation never changed. You have to find ways to see what that underlying message is, and then learn to unwind it a bit. Deep contentment is within you. You're the one getting in your own way.
Self care practices
What you do in your day-to-day life to bounce back and thrive.
1. Elements of a home yoga practice
* Sun Salutations
* Hip Opening
* Forward Folds
2. Ideas for establishing your own home practice
3. Balancing discipline and contentment
4. Bubble baths (if you can)
5. Walks in nature (beach, park, forrest)
Your happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social ties and contributing to something bigger than yourself.
Here you'll find essays and musings on applied mindfulness. What does this look like on a daily basis? How can you infuse it in your day to enjoy yourself more? Join hundreds of others on the the mailing list (link in footer) to get these straight to your inbox.