Happiness is an inside job: Interpretation of Yoga Sutra 1.15
Most of my inspiration for the themes I offer my yoga students come from a combination of two things — my studies of the Yoga Sutras (you could consider it the yoga bible) and my own life experiences. I am finding that the more I draw from my own struggles or joys, the more people connect with it. Naturally, the weekly digging for an intention to offer my students pushes me to sit with myself and take inventory of what’s going on.
This week, I picked the intention of “Filling Yourself Up from the Inside.” Because whether we want to hear it or not, no one else, or nothing else, can provide us with lasting happiness. Sure, people and things can complement happiness, or they can detract from happiness (those are the people and things we need to let go!), but no one but our own selves, along with God (or your higher power, or whatever you believe in), is in charge of it or can be the source of it.
I have to remind myself of this again and again. It goes back to the idea that we already complete, already whole. But our minds tend to intervene with this truth and tell us we need external circumstances to be a certain way to live it. When we buy into this, we are left craving more, and more… and more.
I was pretty blown away by how many people connected with this intention, which is why I decided to write about it now. One guy even took a photo of this quote from my journal after class:
“The more we rely on the outside world for happiness, the more we experience dissatisfaction and craving. We forget that an undisturbed state of mind reflects the essence of our being, the highest Self, which is happiness itself. The pardox is that the only way NOT to experience perfect happiness is to be seeking it outside the self.”
-Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
What the yoga scriptures say:
Yoga sutra 1.15 calls this concept “Nonattachment.” It states, “Nonattachment emerges when the mind voluntarily changes its underlying motivations from selfish to selfless, from seeking sense satisfaction to seeking an experience of peace that transcends external circumstances.”
While it kind of sounds like a call to deprive yourself of life’s pleasures, it’s definitely not. The sutra goes on to say that it’s less about deprivation and more about observing our relationships to objects or attainments, like delicious food or a certain job. For instance, for me, it’s the difference between these statements:
“This delicious glass of wine and cheese plate is so yummy and I am enjoying it so much,” and “I have to have wine and cheese if I’m going to be happy today.”
OR “If I get published in my favorite health magazine, that will feel awesome and I will be proud of it,” and “If I don’t get published in my favorite health magazine, I will never be happy.”
This sutra is recommending that we, or yoga practitioners, remove the attachment to circumstances and release our dependence of them on our happiness. It’s reminding us that our innate selves are already joyful. It’s not saying that we can’t enjoy life’s pleasures (if that were the case, I’m not sure how into this whole yoga thing I would be).
The sutra also suggests several benefits of practicing nonattachment. Here are my interpretations of them:
Fearlessness. As long as we are attached to external circumstances, we are afraid of losing the things that we think bring us happiness. Seems like a pretty good antidote for anxiety to me.
Service. When we don’t attach to what we might gain from our actions or work, and instead work joyfully, we will naturally serve others and therefore feel more joy.
Pure Love. When we are dependent on another person for love, that’s kind of like asking, “What’s in this relationship for me?” When we are not, there is actually more love to give to another person, because we are not in desperate need of love and have fewer reservations.
Self-care. This one’s in here because the sutra says nonattachment should include self-care as a way of service for others. So. True. I love this quote from the sutra: “If we are interested in being useful, we should take good care of ourselves.”
Skill. When the mind is not attached, we are not worried about outcomes or about failing. Instead, we are focused and can stay present with each task at hand, which means our work will be high quality.
Steady Mental Focus (“Nirodha”). This is kind of like #5. This is why meditation is so helpful. When we practice focusing on our breath or a mantra during meditation, and detaching from intrusive thoughts, it’s like strengthening a muscle to use in “real life,” and helps to create space between thoughts/emotions and reactions (like when you’re in traffic or fighting with your significant other).
Wisdom. Nonattachment helps us to more fully trust the “Divine plan” of our lives, instead of getting caught up or dwelling in disappointments.
For me, I believe this concept of nonattachment is lifelong work. Since I have a human mind and am an imperfect being, I have attachments and will have more. Right now, I am in the process of recognizing them, getting more curious about them, and working on refiguring the way I relate to them.
For those of you that may find yourself having the natural human thoughts that look something like this: “When _____happens, I will be happy,” or “I need _____ to be happy,” just question it for a little bit, if you haven’t already. Get curious.
I’ll leave you with this:
“We can experience true joy when we allow ourselves to be content with our true selves, recognize the innate greatness of the world that surrounds us, and know that people and things hold no power over us. We are the masters of our joy.”
-Adapted from Rebecca Mckown
A little background on this post: Every yoga class I teach has an intention or a “theme” that I weave into the class. While I’ve always encouraged students to set an intention before diving in to their asanas (or physical postures), it wasn’t until I started teaching at Corepower that I thought in depth about certain intentions to offer my students. At CPY, It’s encouraged that teachers offer an intention for students to “borrow,” unless they of course have one in mind already. This is a welcome challenge for me, as I love the deeper, beyond-physical aspects of yoga – the spiritual side. And really, asanas are traditionally a small (yet important) part of the ancient practice.