It was UN International Day of Happiness on 20th March 2016 and here in Guernsey, to coincide with this, the Dandelion Project has been running the "World’s Boldest Ever Happiness Experiment". Their vision is a happier Guernsey, with fewer people suffering with mental health problems and more people feeling good, functioning well and helping others.
It’s a great vision, but it is nothing new. Yoga has been offering the world’s boldest happiness experience for over 5,000 years now. As George Feuerstein Ph.D. (Founder-Director of the Yoga Research and Education Centre) writes, “The complex five-thousand-year-old-tradition of yoga is all about a very simple thing: happiness”. So you see Yoga is ALL about happiness.
Furthermore, the ancient yoga texts are as relevant now as when they were written thousands of years ago and provide us with important insights into how to live well. What’s more they have been tried and tested by millions and millions of people, and you know what, there is total truth in the wisdom that they share – and we don’t need science to prove that, we don’t even need a mat, we just need an openness and willingness to practice.
You see the strive for happiness is what makes us human. As Rod Stryker, a renowned international yoga master writes: "Happiness. We all seek it. There is no more basic or universal drive than the desire to be happy. It is inherent, something we are compelled to by virtue of who and what we are. Everything human beings have accomplished and aspired to, our every endeavour, has been and always will be rooted in the impulse to satisfy our longing for happiness.”
We desire love, pleasure, beauty, friendship, accomplishment, wisdom and power. Each of us longs for an abiding sense of purpose and meaning, peace, health, and security. At some level, we also aspire to freedom, to a greater capacity to shape our destiny, and to connect with something greater than ourselves, which some call Source, Self, or God.”
It was the longing for happiness that brought me to yoga. I was very depressed and desperately unhappy, to the extent that I thought that life was not worth living, it lacked purpose and depth and I felt that I had no control in my destiny, I was just bumbling along living a life that wasn’t true to me and I didn’t even know who I was. I sought happiness in all the wrong places, through inappropriate and unfulfilling relationships, through material possessions, and through an unhealthy lifestyle with far too much wine, cigarettes and late nights!
Finding yoga was a little like coming home for me, I was hooked immediately. Not only did it make me feel better physically and indeed mentally, but it enhanced my sense of spirituality and allowed my soul expression. Furthermore, it helped me to find myself and deepen my connection and compassion for ALL beings and indeed my connection with something far greater than me and yet a part of me, the Divine then. Yoga healed and saved me and continues to transform my life beyond my wildest dreams.
Not that it has been an easy process. Yoga demands that we meet ourselves as we are and work from that point forwards. And this is not always easy. More often than not, we don’t like what we see, to the extent that many people stop the practice before they have really gotten going because it all becomes a little too confrontational and painful. If anything it is humbling, for we must constantly, bravely and compassionately face our limitations in order to realise our unlimited potential as spiritual beings. Not only that, but it doesn’t just happen overnight, it demands consistent, committed and dedicated practice.
As you will know yourself, we are often our own worse enemy constantly judging and berating ourselves and struggling with our neuroses and insecurities, so that we have created all sorts of habits, negative tendencies and addictions to distance ourselves from our own inner reality – some work too much, some drink too much, some talk too much, some give to much, some take too much, some hoard too much, some clean too much, some create constant drama, we all have some way in which we do too much of one thing to detract from our need to be silent and go truly within.
But it is in learning about ourselves, our negative tendencies and habits, that we come to see the manner in which we allow our mind, out thoughts then, to contribute to our own unhappiness. There is this fabulous Chinese proverb which supports this need to be mindful of our thoughts, “Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”
It all starts with our own thinking, our emotions and our behaviour patterns. As George Feuerstein Ph.D writes, “Yoga tells us that in order to realise lasting happiness, we must discover our true, spiritual nature. This requires that we commit ourselves to nothing less than self-transformation and self-transcendence. For although our true nature, or spiritual Self, is always the same, it tends to be obscured by conventional thoughts, emotions, and patterns of behaviour.
The yoga tradition compares this circumstance to the brightly shining sun, which is ever radiant but periodically hidden from our view by drifting dark clouds. Yoga helps us to remove all obstructing (mental) clouds, so that we may come to enjoy the sunshine within. It is an extensive program of re-education through which we learn, step by step, to live in the light of our true nature. Only when we have truly found ourselves will we be able to live in peace, harmony, and happiness in the world".
This has certainly been my experience of practicing yoga and I know that I am not alone. Yoga is officially an industry in America. By some estimates it generates nearly five and a half billion dollars a year. It seems that yoga has become an integral part of modern Western society for good reason. As Judith Lasater writes: “In an era of increasingly sophisticated technology, this centuries-old art and philosophy has ever-increasing appeal. Yoga’s resurgence of popularity is a reflection of our urge to reconnect with the sacred.”
And this is huge. So many people these days are so disconnected from the greater purpose, their greater purpose then, and the manner in which all of life is connected and inter-related. And this is where the joy of yoga really lies, as Rod Stryker writes, “yoga has less to do with what you can do with your body or with being able to still your mind than it has to do with the happiness that unfolds from realizing your full potential”. Now that’s big, real, achievable and inspiring.
It is for this reason that I am forever committed to sharing the blessing and indeed joy of yoga with others. It works! It can help you to realise your true potential and achieve real enduring happiness. It is really quite magical. All you need to do is make the time in your life, get off social media, stop reading about it and listening to others talking about it and get practicing instead – it is only through the practice that you will experience the change. So get on your mat, and move and breathe and sit and meditate and rest and watch and feel and repeat, repeat, repeat. Its really very easy, and its free!
So while I believe that raising awareness of happiness through the “World’s Boldest Ever Happiness Experiment” is a positive thing – how it be anything other than this – I also believe that it is already happening. In the ten years that I have been teaching yoga on Guernsey I have witnessed a massive increase in the number of people practicing yoga locally. It is amazing. Yoga has most definitely arrived in Guernsey, which means many people are already engaged in the quest for happiness, the experiment has already been taking place.
So if you find yourself here, reading these words, then close off now and go and lay your your mat and begin. And remember that you cannot force this on anyone, you have got to want to be happy.
With gratitude x