Lasting Health & Happiness: An Unbreakable Link
Originally, this article was published in May of 2013. The topic, however, is so relevant that I wanted to update, revise and re-publish it. If you’ve read this before, you’ll find some new depth and changes to make it worth reading again. If you are a new reader to this site, welcome…
We Want The Same Thing
There’s a reason for the cliché Miss America answer, “I wish for world peace.” It’s because everyone wants happiness. Everyone wants to feel good. The two are inextricably linked. When you feel terrible, it’s nearly impossible to be happy.
The idea of feeling good, and being happy, sits in a bigger context, that of true health. According to the World Health Organization, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Yoga, as always, takes a holistic angle on the topic. Even the sanskrit word for health, swastha, speaks volumes. Swa- means self and -stha means to be established or steady.
True health, from the yogic perspective, is to be established in our selves, no matter how much chaos is churning around or inside us. Established in ourselves, we can witness what’s happening without getting caught up in the storm.
If we dig back in time, we may remember when happiness was our natural state. For many of us it was as children.
In our small, young body we were still close to source. The responsibility of a mortgage, the creak of old knees, the grief of lost loved ones had yet to turn our hair gray and obscure the light within. Unbridled freedom and healthy joy was our natural state.
If we do more digging—this time into etymology—we see stha has the same route as sthira. Yoga’s great sage Patanjali reminds us of this key teaching: Sthira Sukham Asanam.
We must reman both steady and at ease. We have to be steady in who we are in our heart: that natural, light, happy being, at ease, as we were as children.
As we age, we become more entrenched in our human experience. We take on other people’s belief systems, we wear scars from the battles we’ve survived, we become responsible for others, we get tired.
For most, it feels unsteady and it dims the natural happiness within. A general dis-ease sets in. Left long enough in that state we may even become ill, the inner light fighting to be free against a mind that’s forgotten how.
Finding happiness is an uncovering. We have to sift through the emotion, the memories, the old unhealthy programming, stripping away what blocks our innate health and joy.
The task seems daunting, and a total paradox. As soon as we sit down to uncover our natural joy, we find a mountain of discomfort piled on top of us. The longer we wait, the bigger the mountain becomes!
Swastha starts by saying yes. Yes to what we feel. Yes to what we’ve experienced. Yes to the accompanying emotion and memory. I’m not saying we have to like it, in fact we may f*#%ing hate it! But some part of us has to learn to make peace with it if we want to be happy and healthy.
We cannot push away these parts of our experience, these parts of ourself, without also pushing away the very happiness we’re seeking. They exist simultaneously within our own heart… When we push away the dark, we also push away the light.
The hurt and suffering don’t disappear on their own. Nor does our inner, joyful light glow brighter if we ignore it. It takes dedicated effort over an extended period of time (like decades for some of us!) to move mountains. Every action is an opportunity to remember our light or to forget it. Every thought, every word a chance to get closer to who we are or farther away.
Mindfulness practices, like yoga and meditation, provide the space for us to return to the seat of inner peace. They bring the discomfort right up in our face, but also re-ignite the fire in our hearts. It’s where we learn to hold the uncomfortable paradox of what we’ve experienced, with who we are.
Established in ourselves, steady in our connection to the light within, we find lasting health and joy.