What is happiness and how do you get it?
In the yoga sutras, Pantanjali states that Santosha (contentment) leads one to a state of unsurpassed happiness. Think about that. Contentment is the key to happiness. Are we not taught the exact opposite? To strive and want and buy and need? To never be satisfied with your current expression of an asana?
Interestingly, the niyama of santosha is followed immediately by tapas. Tapas translates to heat or austerity. In short, tapas effort or the burning desire to continue on the path.
How often when you are learning something new or taking on a new project are your thoughts of contentment? Where does self reflection move into self-criticism or judgment? Are just burning with tapas and experience no contentment, or do you tend to slip into a sloth-like state that doesn’t move you forward.
You might have a completely different experience Remember, we all come to our lives and our practice with different conditions and past experiences.
My friend Jennie Wiliford has taught me more about contentment than anyone.
The first time I was next to Jennie in class, we were doing something difficult and nearly impossible, I thought. I was huffing and puffing with frustration almost to tears, ready to give up and then I heard Jennie giggling away. I literally stopped what I was doing. How can someone be giggling? I looked over at her. She wasn’t “achieving” any more in the pose than I was. But she was giggling at her obstacles and struggles. I would say that she was even joyful. Time stopped for me as I processed this radically different perspective.
Pantanjali actually tells us there are going to be obstacles on the way. Avoiding the obstacles does not make them go away. Avoidance does not bring happiness. Basically, keep moving forward with effort and practice contentment, this is what leads you to “benevolence of consciousness and unsurpassed happiness.”
Jennie will even laugh in the middle of the yoga hall in Pune . For those who don’t understand how crazy that is, let me set the stage. It is very serious in there, not a lot of talking, maybe grunting but no laughing. But there is Jennie laughing as she falls out of some arm balance. And I just love practicing with her. We get hard stares of disapproval as we laugh. She infuses such joy into a room of people who can be, well, a bit too dogmatic.
When I’m practicing alongside Jennie, my own frustration and self-judgement slips away . She is content with her efforts and at the end of practice, whatever happened, it’s over. It’s time for a delicious chai around the corner on University Road and tomorrow is another day.
I interviewed Jennie for the podcast. Here is the link.
Last week, I wrote about pratayhara and the withdrawal from unhelpful stimulation that distracts you from a serene consciousness. I could spend time with the stern, stoic, critical practitioners and I might gain status or even improve a pose but I’d rather associate with someone who is curious, lighthearted and makes the learning experience joyful. Jennie is an association that keeps me on my path.
Repeat throughout the day, I am content. Find out how often your are entertaining thoughts of discontent and how stressful that is. When you repeat I am content throughout the day, note how your mind and body feel.
Asanas are relationships. You like some, you don’t like some, you learn to love what you didn’t like, you commit to, you separate from, you change your perspective about….
What poses did you find last week that you loved? Hated? Did your enemy become your friend?
In your practice this week, watch your thoughts…where are you content? Or rather where are you not content and where can you find more contentment? Is this contentment or inertia?
UNDERSTANDING A POSE.
3. Repetition is a powerful tool. I often forget about it and instead think I need to do many poses. Pick a pose, for example Dog pose. What are the actions that are included in this pose? And what other poses will help? List below three poses that help you learn, understand or improve the following physical aspects of Adho Mukha Svasana- Dog pose
Shoulder extension - armpits open and shoulder blades to the chest
Leg extension and knee joint - back of the hamstring and calf open
HIp flexion - Bending at the hips
Spine extension - lengthening the front and back of the trunk
You now have a sequence that can start and end with Dog pose. Compare the first one with the last one.
At the end, take Savasana and with each exhalation imagine Santosha as a color washing over you.