Research has shown that happy emotions contribute to long-term wellbeing. But none of us wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed everyday. So how do you generate joy when you don’t already feel joyful? One answer of course is yoga. :) 

One secret to increase your joy is to realize that happiness is not some external quality that can be acquired. Instead, happiness is something that is already inside of you, but which may be hidden from view at times. Yoga can help you uncover that joy inside of you. How? By reducing your stress levels. One major reason we have trouble accessing our inner joy is stress, which, unless you are being chased by an angry elephant, is almost always caused by something in the past or the future. Even when you are stressed out by being stuck in traffic, it’s not really the traffic that is stressing you out, but the thought that you will be late for yoga class, again. Thus the stress of being stuck in traffic actually is about the future, not the present. Yoga helps you to become more fully immersed in each moment, especially if you practice with body and breath awareness. Becoming more present in each moment helps you to let go of all those stressful thoughts about the past and the future simply because your mind is occupied with the here and now.

Meditation provides you with the same focus on the present moment, but yoga does something else that makes it even more effective in generating joy: There is a two-way connection between emotions and posture, and certain poses (especially backbends and inversions) have a noticeably elevating effect on our moods. Conversely, practicing forward folds (or any pose, for that matter) with an overly hunched back can actually promote depression, but bringing awareness to your posture and reducing the rounding of your upper back will help you generate even more joy because it creates more space in the front of the chest and literally opens the heart. The physical component of yoga thus can have a very direct positive effect on our emotions, reconnecting us via the shortest route with bliss if we focus on practicing with an open heart (literally and figuratively).

This week we will focus on poses and alignment cues that help us generate more joy, and on making joy the focus of our practice.