Just BE happy?
This week's blog addresses something I often hear in the yoga community. Often it shows up in silly memes on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram. The idea that we just need to CHOOSE to be happy. NO matter our life circumstances - we get to decide how we feel, and we can just "be happy". Sounds nice, maybe even inspiring to some, but shows a huge lack of knowledge of human psychology and experience, and quite frankly, a lack of compassion for others. I was thinking this when I read this article by Luna Leverett the other day. She talks about this in relation to clinical depression. You can find her blog about it here: http://www.lunaleverett.com/2016/04/29/dont-tell-depressed-people-to-just-choose-to-be-happy/ However, I was thinking about it in an even broader sense....Not just those who are clinically depressed, but anyone who is experiencing chronic pain, chronic stress (for example living in poverty or in a violent neighborhood or home), complex trauma or PTSD, cannot simply "choose to be happy". For some of us, it's all we can do to choose to get through the day without hurting ourselves or taking a drug or a drink. For some of us who experience chronic pain - we just get along as best we can while managing our pain. There are ways we can manage both physical and emotional pain. I personally find the tools of yoga - especially pranayama techniques and mindfulness to be extremely helpful in managing pain. It's also true that exercise of any type releases endorphins which may help us feel better, at least temporarily. But managing pain and being mindful is different from "being happy" (whatever that means). As human beings, we naturally desire to move towards pleasure and away from pain, but sometimes we need to move through pain, through grief - to get to the other side and to heal. Practicing "Aparigraha" (the 5th Yama) in yoga, teaches us to release our attachment to things we hold onto too rigidly including our beliefs and desires, as we cultivate gratitude for what we have and what we receive. Which is not to say that you have to be grateful for pain. You might eventually become grateful for the lesson pain teaches you...Some folks claim this happens...but I would never tell someone they should be grateful for pain. However, you CAN learn tools to help you relieve the pain or at the very least, be able to sit with the pain. I think that is the bigger gift that yoga can give us, and that we, as yoga teachers can share with people, rather than telling them to just "be happy". Namaste.