Many people, when asked what they wish to attain in life – especially those who have already had some achievements in the external, material world – will in some way or other express their desire to be happy and to experience joy in life.
This angle of vision is one of the primary reasons for dissatisfaction and unhappiness in the developed world: relatively small amounts of wealth are needed to lift one up above the anxiety of poverty; anything above that is likely to cause as much distress as it brings some fleeting pleasures.
Yet the usual direction of the senses and, due to its attachment to them, the mind, is outwards: we are always led to believe that happiness can be achieved by pursuing some external goal, like education, career, relationship, acquisition of property…
Advertising professionals and device manufacturers know this all too well – and so these desires are continuously nurtured and stimulated, round the clock.
This is where proper understanding and application of the yogic perspective on happiness will be of invaluable help to everyone willing to take the experience of their life into their own hands.
First of all, yoga firmly states that happiness is not so much a goal to be achieved, but rather the necessary starting point for any kind of success in life, spiritual or material. Our true nature, it says, is always happy, while all unhappiness comes from our erroneous identification with the ego, the body, the senses, and other parts of our being that yoga views as external.
The physical body and the material world in which it moves and operates are not all there is.
The masters of yoga have discovered during the thousands of years of their in-person research that there are five layers, called “sheaths” (kosha), out of which the physical body is just one.
While these sheaths will be discussed in more detail at another time, the main point here is to remember that at our very core there is nothing but pure being – not “being this or that”, just existence itself.
And, most importantly, at this level there is only the experience of ananda, bliss. Omniscience (chit), not ignorance. Truth (sat), no distortions and confusion.
To begin the process of disconnecting from sources of pain, it is not necessary to have a direct experience of this higher reality – that comes much later. What is needed is to understand this fact and have faith in it, faith continually strengthened by reflecting on our own past experiences and responses to current situations.
Identifying with this universal force of truth and goodness will allow us to see all negativity as external and therefore removable, layer by layer. Those who go all the way, keep on doing this until they experience that pure being as the Self of all beings – becoming what many call a “saint”.
…but for most of us, that is a distant goal, if one at all. What matters is that even a tiny bit of progress along this path leads to greater freedom from mental and emotional hangups and baggage, allowing us to return to a more innocent, open, joyful, and creative space that we mostly have forgotten about in the process of growing up and involving ourselves with the world.
As a complete science of life, yoga approaches happiness from many different angles:
- Hatha yoga takes care of the physiological reasons for unhappiness, depression, and other low-energy states, by purifying the body through cleansing, movement, compression, breath, and integrating the mind and body into a harmonious whole.
- Raja yoga teaches us how to temporarily disconnect from the externalising forces of the world, and recover and recharge by tapping our inner sources of strength within. The techniques that we learn here also help clear deeper, subconscious and unconscious memories and traumas, which prevent us from experiencing natural joy in life, but are impossible to spot and confront when the mind is looking outwards.
- Bhakti yoga, especially in the form of practices that can be done in a group setting with mantras, offers powerful methods for transforming mental and emotional states from negative into positive, from limiting to expansive, from divisive to unifying.
It does so by completely bypassing the intellectual aspect of the mind and working on the raw mental and emotional energy directly. Often sadly misunderstood and misapplied, mantra and bhakti yoga are some of the most powerful and transformative methods of self-improvement in existence.
- Adopting yogic lifestyle, even to a smaller degree, will align the body and mind with the natural rhythms of the day, and adjust the “inner environment” of the mind when we work on aspects like gratitude, respect, forgiveness, and conscious disconnection from negative thoughts about self or others.
In yogic lifestyle, the more you look for the more you find: everything from dietary adjustments, sleeping patterns, different types of practices for different times of day etc. – how far and deep you want to go only depends on you, all the tools are there.
While all of this can sound a little overwhelming, there is a simple and methodical way to experience the effects of yoga on your experience of life. For easy-to-do techniques to increase your level of joy and happiness in life, introduced gradually and systematically, check out the “Yoga of Happiness” study programme, and watch out for live events organised within it occasionally.