Tap Into Your Innate Happiness!

How many times do we put off our happiness? How many times do we look back to happier times in our lives which are draped in nostalgia? We look forward to the weekend, to the next lunch date, the next holiday. We project our hopes and dreams on to some elusive future where everything will be perfect or we look back to our childhood, our wedding day, a time where we realised in hindsight, we once were happy. It may be that we try to find happiness in escapism through buying new clothes, going out for wonderful meals, enjoying a good bottle of wine and watching the latest movies. There is nothing wrong with these pursuits but are they really the most effective tools for lasting happiness? If we look deeper, it may be that we each need to carve out a life which we no longer feel we need to escape from.

Happiness is like a balloon drifting just in front or just behind us and we keep trying to grasp hold of the ribbon and bring it closer. We chase the balloon but are also mindful that is delicate and could pop at any time, our dreams of happiness vanishing into thin air. What if that balloon was held in our grasp all along, we just had not realised it?

The eight limbs of Yoga as described by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras provide a pathway towards peace and happiness. The second limb Niyamas consider how we deal with ourselves in the world around us. One of the Niyamas, Santosha or contentment teaches us that beneath the fluctuations of our everyday lives there exists an endless well of peace and harmony, we just need to know how to tap into it. Even more encouraging is that this contentment can be found amidst the challenges of our everyday lives, here in the now of this very moment!

This is liberating because it means the search is over! What we seek through external means lays within. Happiness is our natural state of being and the tools of Yoga can help us to uncover it.

We can stretch and feel better with each breath in our practice on the mat. We can let go of grasping for things and feel the contentment that comes from feeling we have enough. We can focus on the horizon as we walk and take in scent and sound in a moving meditation, the birdsong a gentle symphony to our connection with nature.

The eight limbs provide us with an arsenal of tools which allow the radiance of our lives to overflow from our hearts and give us the inner resolve to meet adversity with equanimity knowing that joy and pain are a part of life and that our natural state of happiness is not dependent on the shifting tide of emotions and experiences which make up our lives. It runs deeper. We run deeper.

We can choose to be happy now, amidst the bills, care of family and loved ones, whilst weeding the garden, whilst working through a ‘To-Do’ list, because this is the life lived now. Our birth right is happiness, comprised of moving moments of wonder if we take the leap inside and tap into our true nature.

By Emma Conally-Barklem

First published in Om Yoga & Lifestyle magazine August 2021

Grief through the matrix of yoga

Bereavement is a messy business. It chews us up, hollows us out and folds us in two. For me, the death of my mum and best friend continues to be the most painful experience of my life. Without the anchor of my Yoga practice, I’m not sure where I would be. Amidst great pain there exists great hope but this is not always apparent when you are in the throes of hurt, absence and regret.

The most prevalent narrative around grief in western society is that of the stages of grief. Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross first introduced her five stage grief model in her book On Death and Dying (1969). Her work was based on the study of terminally patients and their emotional response at the prospect of their own mortality. She identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages have come in for much criticism in recent years because of the false perception of their linear nature and chronology of the grieving process which many see as reductive. Kübler-Ross has stated since that these stages are non-linear and that people may not experience some if any of them. Still, however, this idea of grief which is able to be packaged neatly up into boxes is an enticing and persistent one.

The stages are familiar and I’m sure most people have experienced each emotion or process in relation to their grieving process at some point, they do not however allow for the immensity of emotional feeling which marks the grief experience which lays outside of language, an inarticulate knot of sorrow which evades any claim to rationality. It is here that yoga and grief intersect.

Yoga, like grief is non-linear and stands apart from the cage of language. If yoga students are asked how they feel after a yoga class they may say ‘calm’, ‘relaxed’, ‘chilled out’ but the stillness which emanates from them and the centred, mindful way they move belies a deeper feeling. Grievers similarly may say they feel ‘sad’, ‘angry’ but scratch the surface of these somewhat anodyne descriptions and a furled heart of pain which shifts shape and cannot be boxed into stages is evident.

Yoga is a holistic 8 limb path into self-realisation and healing. Rather than pushing emotions such as anger, frustration and sadness away, we learn to sit with the feeling, allow and observe without running away. Yoga practice is a natural fit with the grieving process as it is always a moving away from self-judgment and shame towards self-acceptance. Grieving in a grief-illiterate society is isolating and lonely. Unhelpful platitudes to ‘stay strong’, ‘move on’, ‘time heals’ can make the griever feel as though they are failing, that there is a time limit to grief when in fact the grief becomes a part of that person. Tears and emotional outbursts are seen as a sign of weakness when in fact such emotions are healthy indicators of the love the person had for the deceased and the necessary pain that loss means to the griever. The process is non-linear and best taken day by day. Like yoga, the present moment is all there is and we can live that moment fully without expectation and judgement.  We feel the samsaric cycle of birth and death in the birth of the inhale and the death of the exhale. Each breath a metonym for our brief precious time here on this plane of existence. We practice ancient ways to breathe which honour our hearts and cultivate peace whilst seeking out the resistance and aches in our bodies by either shaking them up or letting them rest and be. We practice ‘Wood chopper’ breath to release anger and anguish, feel the comfort of belly breathing to dispel anxiety and tension, we sit and follow the repetition of our thoughts and guide the mind gently back to the breath.

We read the poetic truth of The Upanishads which describe death and the circle of life. We study The Yoga Sutras which describe tersely our suffering caused by our fear of death and the loss of others. In this we feel ourselves to be part of a continuum in the ocean of humanity, our DNA and genes invisible traces of the lost loved one threading through our everyday existence. Some days we question, bargain, rage, despair, other days we laugh, relax, or our mind is just there. We learn to take these shifting sands of emotion in equal measure, a place beyond recrimination.

Here, we enter a vast space of all that is and all that is felt. We move beyond the efficacy and limitations of language to a place of pure awareness where the very fabric of existence compels us to feel the truth that all that was will always be.

 Grief is the flipside to love, and the love which connects all sentient beings, is yoga.

Author: Emma Conally-Barklem

Previous Publications: A Little Insight (online magazine)