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Could ‘Being Happy’ Be Making You Miserable?

Uncovering the Path of Temporary Happiness

Reprinted from

During a yoga retreat, a participant discovered the root cause of all her emotional afflictions. She called it a spiritual rocket launched by her retreat teacher. During one of the evening workshops the teacher said, “Yoga is the elimination of clinging. Clinging is want, and to want is to suffer.”

That was it. In an instant, she had a flash of insight into why she was unhappy: she simply had to stop wanting.

To explain why too much want can be disastrous to our emotional equilibrium, let’s take a look at the philosophy of raga: attachment that brings temporary satisfaction.

The gratification we feel from pleasurable experiences and possessions creates blurred internal vision, emotional ups and downs, and in the long run, is never sustaining.

When we do get what we want, we experience unrooted happiness; our feelings of pleasure quickly fade, and we begin a brand new search for pleasure, becoming trapped in an endless cycle of want. If getting what we want makes us happy, even for a short period of time, then when we don’t get what we want, we suffer.

Raga is the self-induced bad seed that causes an addiction to the buzz of pleasure. You can become addicted to anything — shopping, drugs, sex, gambling, even perfecting yoga poses. These addictions provide a short-lived, illusory comfort. For example, a person may feel confident after the first cocktail, but utterly mindless after the third.

The yogic path to defeating the impediments to happiness is to practice abstinence from greediness, hoarding, and possessing beyond your needs. The more you look at your own desires, the clearer you see the well in this endless pool of want.

Asanas for Understanding

Raga shows up on your yoga mat as an attachment to a teacher, your body strength or flexibility, or an idea of how you want the class to be. When you’re open-minded and practice without expectations, energetic possibilities flourish. Yoga teaches that everything you need is already inside you.

Attachment to pleasure is a futile grasping at impermanence. For instance, people often close their chest to hold the moment, thus shutting down the heart center. An optimal asana remedy is backbends, one of the most concentrated yoga tools to counteract the obstacles to joy. Backbends implore us to strongly focus and open the heart center, balancing the breath and allowing prana to flow into parts of the body that we can’t see.

To test your attachments to certain poses, try the poses listed below, and journal what you find out about yourself.

Standing Forward Fold — This pose encourages the middle way — not too much, not too little.

Downward Dog — Explore the vibrations of vitality while stretching through your long torso and spine.

Tabletop Twist — This dynamic twist provokes a lift through the heart and opens the rib cage and lungs.

Low Lunge — Practice longer lunge holds with the ujjayi breath, mindfully releasing the pelvis toward the ground while expanding your loving heart center.

Bridge - Imagine your heart lifting out of its cage, flourishing with truth and wisdom. Breathe evenly, relieving the static energy caused by the heaviness of discontentment.

Self-Reflection Time

Reflect on your obstacles and the idea of want. Do you have too much stuff? Do you overspend, overeat, or drink or gamble too much? Do you have a visceral reaction when you don’t get what you want? If so, you may be caught in the trap of raga.

When you cling to a person, place, or thing in the hope that it will bring you happiness, it will only bring more want, the root of suffering. After all, in this life, impermanence is a guarantee.

The fiendish call of raga is one of life’s biggest distractions and your spiritual nemesis.

Wake up and realize that attaining more possessions and feeding your addictions are running your life. They will never fulfill you, and will only create more want and unhappiness.

Ultimately, what makes us happy is not what we get, but who we become.

Nancy Gerstein (RYT 500) is a yoga and meditation teacher, author, and entrepreneur. She is the founder of Motivational Yoga, a will and intention-based practice that devotes yoga’s limitless mind-body potential and philosophy to living a more joyous and meaningful life. The principles of Motivational Yoga help students to find their own self-motivating charge through spiritually strengthening practices that bolster personal growth and active development. Nancy’s classes feed body and mind, encouraging yogis to make conscious choices about how they direct thoughts, energy, and focus to live the best life they can.

Nancy is the author of three books on yoga including Motivational Yoga: 100 Practices for Strength, Energy, and Transformation and Guiding Yoga’s Light. Connect with Nancy on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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