‘Happiness’ is a big and highly lucrative industry; there are hundreds of books that proclaim to have the definitive guide to happiness. I’ve read books and articles ranging from the science to the secret of happiness. And I've heard people schedule when I’ll feel happy; ‘after this week when I’ve finished this deadline, I’ll feel happier.'
And in my time looking for happiness I’ve seen courses, workshops, TED Talks, tips on starting a Gratitude Diary and supplements that we can take to give us that extra boost. I’m certainly not denigrating these options, but in this blog, I am going to suggest that the path to happiness is much simpler and that maybe we've had the answers all along from the ancient yogis...
Meet the Kleshas.
अविद्यास्मितारागद्वेषाभिनिवेशाः पञ्च क्लेशाः॥३॥
Kleshas in Sanskrit means ‘poison.’ It’s said that these five poisons are the obstacles to happiness.
1. Ignorance (Avidya)
Our first affliction is our lack of awareness and disconnection from Truth. Our ‘truth’ is our true nature, that state before work stresses, relationship strains and financial pressures affect us. According to Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras we are always loving and caring, but our ignorance acts like clouds across a sunny sky, blocking out the light.
In a Yoga class: Practicing asana can make us lose sight of our true nature, we can wrestle the body into a shape, rather than move thoughtfully.
In life: You’re home late again because the train service is unreliable, you’re hot, low blood sugar levels and the people in front of you are walking incredibly slowly out of the station… Hard to see your Truth of being a loving and caring individual in this situation, right?!
2. Ego (Asmita)
We all have one! When we forget our Truth, we begin to over identify with ‘I’ or ‘me.’ Try the following exercise; Notice the labels you tag onto yourself.
In a Yoga class: Identifying with the label ‘I have no upper body strength’ and collapsing in Chaturangas, or having shaking arms in Downward Facing Dog, can limit the enjoyment and creativity of your practice. So drop the labels, or in Chaturanga, come down onto your knees, as do a small movement well and build strength
In life: Think about your job, salary, hobbies, do you get caught up in the status of them? If your salary was cut in half, would you have the same self-worth?
3. Desire (Raga)
It’s okay to need or want things, but you know your desire has become an affliction when it creates suffering. Our desire for pleasurable experiences creates mindless actions and blind sighted vision. When we cannot obtain what we desire, we suffer.
In a Yoga class: Get away from ‘Sirasana, I want to nail headstand and I’ll be happy once I have.’ –Instead, enjoy and savour the journey. Never again will you have the chance to learn to do a headstand for the first time.
In life: Are you delaying your happiness until you get a pay rise, or you’ve lost those last few pounds? When we have this mind set of ‘I’ll be happy when…’ very rarely are we. It can be helpful to check your ambition, make sure it’s not all consuming.
4. Aversion (Dvesa)
Never mind our desires, there are also plenty of things we don’t want. When we are challenged out of our comfort zone by a pose in our practice, we may encounter this sensation of dislike. Uncomfortable as it may be, sometimes a lesson lies in taking that step that takes out to a new ground, out of your comfort zone… It’s a great opportunity for growth.
In a Yoga class: You know the pose you dread a yoga teacher calling out. It’s irrelevant whether you like a pose or not, our asana practice is a mental discipline expressed physically. Try not to get caught up in the ‘oh no I hate Pigeon pose.’
In life: We all have an aversion to pain. But it’s a really powerful teacher, what can we learn from a physical or emotional pain?
5. Clinging to life (Abhinivesha)
We cling because we fear loss. Although it’s traditionally translated as “fear of death,” I prefer to look out for the subtler yet prominent expression of fear experienced as anxiety.
In a Yoga class: Fear and anxiety comes up a lot while practicing inversions. Self preservation! Students don’t always feel confident getting upside down and supporting their weight. But how amazing it is to acknowledge the anxiety and slowly, respectfully work with it and develop a sense of comfort and ease with inversions.
In life: Anxiety is insidious in modern society. Fear is disempowering, it holds us back. Our life long yoga practice is to learn to observe the constant mind chatter, and to make choices guided by love.
We’ve never had so much advice on how to be happy, but are we any happier?
Try This Meditation:
Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, where you won't be interrupted for 5 minutes...
Can you allow the moment to be exactly as it is? Just for a moment, imagine you do not have to change anything at all about your experience in order to be happy or content. Rather than trying to make something happen, observe and feel what is naturally happening without any effort on your part. Instead of trying to understand your experience, be fully present as the experience unfolds moment to moment. Allow this moment, and yourself, to be perfect, just the way it is.
This post features exclusive artwork by Peter Clinton. If you'd like to see more of his work or order this print, email Rosie.
teaches public and private yoga classes in Hove and is the Yoga teacher for Brighton and Hove Albion FC.