I’m not sure who said, “Happiness is an inside job,” but it’s a great thing to remember as a yogi. According to yoga philosophy, santosha, which means contentment, is a form of self-discipline. In other words, happiness is a skill and practice. Happier people do not have easier lives, with less hard work, grief, divorce, or financial strain than the rest of us. They’re simply more grateful for what they have and choose to be conscious of their contentment more often.
Modern yogis view yoga as a process of self-improvement. We do yoga so that we can get better at it. Gain greater flexibility. Become a kinder or more patient person. Excel at sports. . The list goes on. In all the years I’ve practiced and taught yoga, I have never heard someone walk into a class and pronounce, “I’m here because I’m totally content with my life, body, and world view. There’s nothing I seek to change or improve. I just want to learn how to do yoga, for fun.” Never.
It’s not that seeking self-improvement is bad. It’s fantastic. The trick is to remember to enjoy the process. If we continually seek betterment, without a genuine appreciation for the present and “whatever fate may bring,” we run the risk of missing the entire essence of yoga and, quite frankly, life. There is no fancy pose, enlightened style of yoga, venerable guru, or brilliant book that can manufacture or deliver your happiness. It comes from within you, and finding it is a different process for everyone.
When I demonstrate challenging yoga poses for my students, I often joke that no matter how impressive, graceful, or fun a yoga pose looks, it cannot change the quality of their lives in any major way. Performing a headstand won’t save someone from getting a parking ticket, losing a job, or getting dumped. Meanwhile, the learning process, attention level, and attitude of the pose can have a positive compounding effect on the rest of our lives. Whenever you catch yourself hungry for the look and flash of an elaborate posture, remember your higher mission. Ask yourself if you’re enjoying the process, not just flinging yourself toward an idealized destination.
When we forget that happiness is an inside job and look for validation externally—the house, car, or outfit—we will always end up disappointed. The house will never be big enough, car new enough, outfit in season enough. We’ll lose the bigger picture of the process and fixate on the small stuff. Selfish stuff. Ego stuff. Want to know the shortest, most direct route out of ego? The opposite of the obnoxious voice in your head that says: what about me? It’s santosha. It’s gratitude. It’s the skill of taking yourself out of the tailspin of scarcity and reconnecting to contentment. Because as soon as you put yourself in a state of gratitude (for anything, however small) you can no longer operate from ego. The two are polar opposites. The practice of santosha removes us from the rat race and rests us in a gentle hammock of gratitude for a little while. Ahhhh. Doesn’t that feel better?
Excerpted from the book DO YOUR OM THING: Bending Yoga Tradition to Fit Your Modern Life by Rebecca Pacheco