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How Yoga Makes Us Happy

Happiness is your true nature. It’s imprinted into your DNA. We all long for happiness in the form of freedom from suffering. But where’s the owner’s manual on how to get happy? And how do you maintain happiness once you achieve it?

Yoga is the process of awakening your heart to the possibility for happiness beyond your wildest dreams.

Yoga helps you surrender so you can remember that you have everything you need already inside of you. The yogi doesn’t want just temporary happiness. The yogi wants permanent joy. I call it “unreasonable happiness.” Happiness for no reason at all.

Yoga, in its uncanny ability to open up space in your awareness, is the way and means for how to live with more joy, happiness, and fullness such that life has more meaning and purpose.

I don’t claim to know all there is to know about happiness. I’m as much a student of life as anyone else. But I do know that there are a few distinctions that need to be made to understand how happiness works and how we tend to self-sabotage when we hit our “joy toleration” level.

Have you ever noticed that once you achieve a certain level of joy, when everything’s going your way, that you do something, think something, worry about something that totally destroys your moment of joy? I call this the joy toleration level. I believe that everyone has a joy toleration point, a point beyond which you can no longer hold your happiness and you spill it.

I remember a time during my years as a Kripalu resident that after every program I led, I would feel so high. There was so much love from the students and the culmination of the Shakti from the program, that I would feel overwhelmed with joy. I really felt used by a force greater than myself, as though I was in service to a bigger energy, in service to the hearts of all of the students. I felt that my life’s purpose was fulfilled. It’s hard to describe how amazing that feeling is. But it’s as though I fulfilled my life’s purpose and went to heaven. I was complete!

But then the night of the ending of the course, I would treat myself to a plate full of tasty treats from the Kripalu Shop. Back then they only sold Rice Dream (a non-dairy ice cream), and mocha pies (an ice cream sandwich dessert). I would load up on the sweets until I couldn’t eat any more. Then the next day, I would feel terrible – headache, stomachache, exhausted, and hung over. (In retrospect, I’m glad I binged on healthy treats rather than other more destructive substances!) My point is, I reached my joy toleration level and had to bring myself down. At least that’s what my pattern was back then. Nowadays, I try to love myself in healthier ways that actually work to calm my nervous system and let me down more gently like taking a long nap, getting a massage, or doing a bike ride.

In the understanding of happiness, we need to know where our joy toleration level is and how to work with it. We are not meant to stay on a high forever. True mastery is having the fluidity to go up and down and surf the waves of life while staying centered and connected to the ocean of consciousness deep within. Ultimately, as yogis we want to go to the boundary of our joy toleration level and expand the boundary. I’ve discovered that when I go to the boundary, if I can take a breath and simply relax, I’m able to expand my joy and experience it more deeply.

A few insights I’ve had on happiness:

  1. Attachment is the villain of happiness.

  2. Expectation is the buzzkill.

  3. Anticipation enhances the dream.

It’s not about never being attached. The tantric yogi embraces the ever-so-human condition of attachment while knowing that attachment can lead to disappointment. We need to learn how to be passionately unattached, while knowing full well that everything changes. Everything arises, stays for a while, then dissolves. Knowing this, we can feel prepared to become completely attached while dealing with the fear of losing what we’re attached to. Inevitably everything changes. We can’t hold on to things forever, and in the end we can’t take it with us.

Yoga assists us in the process of letting go.

In most classes, the final pose is Savasana, the Corpse Pose, where the whole purpose of the pose is to let go and open to grace. Yoga teaches us how to release control and surrender what’s no longer needed. Yoga enhances your ability to be in the present moment which requires you to let go of the past. Yoga gives you the awareness that the only thing you can control is yourself. With that wisdom, you stop trying to change others and especially stop trying to change the unchangeable.

Yoga also helps you embrace difficult situations that can be painful, like holding a deep Pigeon Pose. Yoga brings on the pain of the stretch, which is therapeutic when you align and breathe into it. And yoga helps you to let go into the stretch and flow with it. Like water that flows around obstacles, Yoga softens you to be able to flow around and sometimes through obstacles while remaining centered, calm, and clear.

Plus, you can modify the pose and back off as needed. Yoga trains you how to bring comfort to your discomfort, to self-soothe, and to breathe into difficult positions and let go. In yoga, as in life, you want to find the place in the middle, not too little stretch and not too much. When you’re in the place in the middle, the threshold, you access a consciousness greater than yourself. You touch into the miracle of life, the vast and unbounded part of yourself, which opens your perspective. You can begin to see solutions to problems that otherwise were not accessible to you. Life becomes easier and not so much of a problem to be solved but an experience to savor.

I rarely watch TV. But I love this one commercial about the “binky.” It’s an ad for a car. The husband and wife are standing in line somewhere carrying a lot of bags, maybe it’s at an airport waiting to board a plane. The wife is holding her baby and asks her husband where the binky is. The binky is a pacifier toy for the baby to suck on. Without it the baby gets restless and will begin to cry. The husband realizes he forgot it so he runs out to the car and drives like a bat out of hell with the background music theme from “Rocky.” They show the car driving through storms, across rivers, through the desert, over mountains, while it goes viral in the news and across all major networks: #binkydad! Headlines are something like, “Dad risks his life to get the binky and wins the hearts of the people with his courage.” Finally, he returns to his wife and baby and pulls out the green binky and puts it in the baby’s mouth. The baby makes a god-awful face of disgust and spits it out. The wife says, “She only likes the blue one.” Then the husband runs out to the car again, Rocky music blaring, to do the whole thing over again in pursuit of the blue binky.

The first time I saw this ad, I laughed hysterically, because that’s what being attached is like. You have your mind set on one thing, and one thing only. Even if what you get is similar to the one thing, you reject it because you’re attached to the one thing.

Attachment is what I call rigidity thinking. It is the villain of happiness.

It makes you only see one thing while blinding you to options even if the options might even be better. You want what you want and nothing else will make you happy. Everyone is free to want what they want. But to be so attached to one thing creates a lot of stress. On a positive note, being attached gives you the tenacity to not give up on your dream. It’s just that you need to weigh out the consequences and choose consciously.

Expectation is the buzzkill. Upset is the result of unmet expectations. Expectations cloud the present moment and take up valuable space for happiness. Expectation and happiness cannot co-exist.

Consider replacing attachment and expectation with anticipation. It’s possible for anticipation and happiness to co-exist. In fact, anticipation and fantasizing positive outcomes can enhance happiness. An example is how much fun I have anticipating my summer vacation on Cape Cod. Weeks in advance, I enjoy thinking about it, planning for it, packing for it. It’s all part of the vacation experience. I get to experience the joy of being on vacation plus the joy of anticipating going on vacation, which lengthens my vacation by at least two weeks! Anticipation builds the energy using your imagination. It enhances the experience and brings you closer to your dream.

We are all called to live our best lives, to live our dream. Don’t settle for anything less than your dream. And once you get close to it, or achieve it, don’t stop there. What’s been working well for me recently, and I offer it to you here, is the affirmation, “Thank you. More please!” This expresses gratitude for what you’ve been given and opens you to receive more. It acknowledges that the experience of happiness is infinite and unbounded.

May yoga assist you in living your best life now.

May you allow yourself to be passionately attached and unattached to your heart’s deepest desires, and may you never settle for less than what you truly want. And most importantly, may you find your binky in life!

May we open our hearts together to live the life of our dreams beyond our wildest imagination!


Todd and the Ashaya Yoga Team

P.S. The Summer of Yoga & Happiness starts today! It’s not too late for you to join us. Get all the details here and spend the summer growing your happiness, becoming grounded and stronger in who the universe has made you to be- Pure Joy!

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