Does this yoga spark joy?

What if you practice yoga but you’re not happy all the time? Yoga purports great happiness if you follow its guidelines. But what if that’s difficult for you? What if it’s hard to see that we’re all one, to notice your prana mingling with that of others, to sprout love, to experience unending bliss? Well, you probably won’t be happy all the time. But, through recognizing yoga’s long journeys and developing santosha, you may light a spark of joy that glows at all times.

Patanjali states that yoga comes through abhyasa - devoted practice over a long period of time - and varaigya - detachment from results. Yoga’s journeys are long ones. It takes time for true change to occur. Sometimes we get frustrated by this, but it’s for the best. Turning your tight hamstrings one week into loose ones the next certainly would leave you unstable. It takes months and years to change the physical body. And so it goes for the mind. Old samskaras die hard. If you’ve had a habit for 10 years, it’s not going to change in one week - not permanently. As with the hamstrings, you don’t give up when they don’t loosen up. You keep practicing and you study. You work with what you’ve got, let go of results, and watch the unraveling of tension or old patterns. In letting these journeys play out while you observe without judgment, you allow for true change.

These days, gratitude is on many of our minds, for good reason. Patanjali was onto the concept of gratitude a long time ago in a country far, far away: one of the niyamas from the Yoga Sutras is santosha - contentment. The more aware you are of what you need and don’t need - and already have - the closer you’ll be to bliss - or in terms easier for householders to understand - the more joyful you’ll be. This is because you’ll be looking at your life from a perspective of abundance rather than one of scarcity. When you take the time to sit and be quiet - that is, to meditate, the wheels of your mind slow down. In this slowed down state, it’s easier to see what’s necessary and what’s not. You can let go of wanting. Free of wanting, you can let go of racing toward what you wanted. You can see more clearly that you have much. You can sit in this contentment and be content. What’s more, you can see what you really need and set in search of it. Having a clear understanding of what you need, coupled with knowing that you have much, keeps the joy spark glowing.

The brightness of joy’s spark may wax and wane, but it glows all the time. Like the lantern in a lighthouse, it beckons you, making you aware of its presence. Even on dark days, this lantern glows. I remember when my parents were sick last fall and nothing seemed bright, I could see a tiny light within me ever so faintly. I was grateful to my yoga practice for slowing down my mind any bit so that I could see a little bit of joy residing deep inside me. Because of yoga, I was able to see the good during the bad times. This made me a little bit lighter as I walked the halls of hospitals. It made me able to spread a little bit of joy in dark times.

The desire for joy is one thing that keeps us coming back to our mats. It can be frustrating to realize that yoga hasn’t launched us into a universe where only happiness exists. But happiness is one emotion and we are wired for all emotions. And so, while we practice, we become aware of our changing emotional states, while yoga crawls beneath them and lights that spark of joy that never goes out.