Eudaemonic Happiness

This afternoon, I stumbled across an interesting piece in the New Yorker regarding the concept of eudaemonic happiness, which Aristotle described in Nicomachean Ethics.  Eudaemonic happiness is, quite simply, the idea that happiness is a practice, not a feeling or a destination. It’s being in the moment, being engaged in the action.

It goes without saying that this concept is nothing new. *rim shot* However, in studies that have since been replicated, researchers have found correlations between levels of eudaemonic happiness and genome function. Whereas loneliness and isolation induced a defensive state in the body–increased inflammation, decreased antiviral response–high levels of eudaemonic happiness were associated with the opposite profile. In short, increased eudaemonic happiness may lead to health benefits.

Although the article did not address yoga per se, I nonetheless see parallels between the yogic idea of “being in the now” and Aristotle’s eudaemonic happiness. Both concepts say, “Be present. Engage with the process. Find happiness here in this moment.” It’s worth remembering that when we live this practice, we may be helping ourselves on a physiologically fundamental level.

The Sky by Night

Doesn’t it seem that sometimes there are periods of time when a particular image crops up in our lives over and over again? In my case, at this moment, that image is the sky by night.  From a Star Trek marathon several weeks ago, to the release of the book A Court of Wings and Ruin—which featured the night sky as a motif—on May 2, to the full moon hanging overhead just last week, I’ve between preoccupied by the thought of what lies beyond the blue marble we call home. It’s a universal, almost primal image—humans have likely been fascinated by the stars since we climbed down from the trees—but it has taken over my mind in full force.

I’m reminded of a night at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory several years ago, when I saw the arm of the Milky Way galaxy for the first time. Having grown up on the east coast of the U.S., surrounded by light pollution, I had never understood how numerous the visible stars really were. That night in Colorado was clear and frigid, and I was 9500 ft above sea level, miles away from the nearest town, and the entire sky looked like an image taken by the Hubble Telescope.

Beneath the Milky Way

Image from the European Southern Observatory in the Chilean Desert. The view in Colorado was almost identical to this. Photo by ESO/Luis Calçada/Herbert Zodet (http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1613a/) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In the context of yoga, this memory makes me think of the philosophical idea of the malas (with a short “a”—mala with a long “a” is a meditation tool), and I taught a class around this concept last week. The malas are thought of as cloaks or veils that prevent us from perceiving our fullest self. They’re like a layer of dust obscuring the lens of a camera, or the clouds and light pollution that prevent us from seeing the stars.

The first of these is Anava mala, which refers to the illusion of being limited or unworthy. When we feel insecure and incomplete, self-doubting and ashamed, we’re experiencing anava mala.

The second is Mayiya mala, the illusion of being different, separate from the rest of the world. Mayiya mala gives rise to feelings of isolation, anger, or jealousy.

The third is Karma mala, which relates to action. When we experience Karma mala, we feel “stuck” or stagnant, unable to act.

Yogic philosophy teaches that these malas are part of the fabric of existence; they are something we all experience, and as long as we live, the malas will arise. As such, we should recognize them for what they are: cloaks and illusions, not our true, highest self.

Live long and prosper, my friends.

P.S. This afternoon, one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, posted an anecdote about imposter syndrome. Not only does it relate to the night sky, I feel it beautifully illustrates the importance of recognizing the malas when they arise. It’s a brief read; you can find it here.

The Yoga of Writer’s Block

Notice anything about this recent attempt at writing a blog entry?

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Notice how each new paragraph is crossed out? How again and again, I tried to start, only to run headfirst into that wall known as “writer’s block?”

Sometimes the yoga practice can be the same way. Eventually the initial “rush” wears off, and we discover our own blocks: a challenging pose, for example, or a particularly tight area of the body, or a negative thought pattern we haven’t learned to let go of. I was reminded yesterday afternoon, during City Yoga’s “yoga lab,” of just how humbling the asana practice can be, when I met my edge sooner than I anticipated time and time again, as my arms began shaking while we explored arm balances and inversions.

Often it’s tempting to either beat ourselves to death against that block or walk away entirely, but it’s at these times, I feel, that the idea of devotion comes into play. Devotion is a nuanced topic that permeates yogic philosophy (Bhakti, or devotional, yoga is considered its own path, distinct from Hatha yoga), but the core of devotion is love. It’s a blend of grit–a willingness to keep coming back, to keep trying–and softness–a willingness to be patient, to explore and shift.

In asana, devotion might mean backing away from a challenging pose but diligently practicing the preparatory work, or it might mean taking a minute to roll out your mat and sit with your breath during those times when you really don’t want to practice.

In my writing, devotion meant staring down the blank page but shifting my focus. Only when I stopped trying to force myself to write and started asking “How do I find the yoga in writer’s block?” did the words begin to flow.

It’s when we keep coming back–differently and creatively, but diligently–that transformation takes place.

I wish you all a wonderful week. 🙂