“Yoga makes you happier” is one of the biggest misnomers I have ever heard.
Really? It makes me happier?
Then, how come sometimes I get on my mat and I start crying? Or I get pissed when I try to open my hips?
If yoga is supposed to make me happier, then why does it hurt so damn much to stay on the mat?
I find statements like “yoga makes you happier” to be gross oversimplifications of the hard earned rewards yoga offers from the blood, sweat and tears of deep practice and contemplation over time. While you might come to yoga and notice “Oh, my back feels a little better” or “Wow, things are lookin’ up,” what keeps you coming back has to be deeper if it’s going to sustain itself.
Just as your partner will eventually get old and wrinkly, so will your yoga practice.
Will you love it none the less? (Note: some of you may think that yoga exists outside normal time and space reality and thus accessing the luminosity of the soul will reverse this natural aging. I disagree. The soul might be impermeable in some ways, but I practice in real life and real time and so in my mind even the practice is subject to aging. But I don’t find that a fundamental dilemma—in fact quite the contrary).
If you only come to yoga for the shakti bomb high, your nervous system will never actually change at the cellular level.
I, for one, am less concerned with why someone came to the mat on any particular day and far more concerned with why they keep coming back again and again—even when its tough, even when its painful, even when they have doubt.
When I signed up for a life practice, I didn’t sign up for only the happy shiny frosty bling of shri. I married my yoga practice. That’s right I married it.
That means, for better or for worse, I am going to work it out with myself on that mat. Now, that doesn’t mean that my yoga practice and me do not need counseling sometimes. We do. We need the support of a removed witness who can guide and point out our blinders.
This is known as going to a class or workshop. It doesn’t mean we never require time apart. On the contrary, we vacation from each other and it only enhances our commitment and love. This is known as I have a life of my own which includes other activities like hiking, lifting weights, lying in bed and having a cocktail.
But, because I signed up for the lows and woes of sustained practice, I also get to enjoy the fruits of my labors through deep self-commitment, self-trust, a refined practice, a calmer nervous system and the capacity to get stoned without substance.
To only accept the highs feels like a groundless misnomer of life and practice.
Since I live a mile above sea level I need as much grounding as I can get. I would much rather be married to my yoga practice through a committed relationship where I can explore all the angles of my aliveness, both physical and emotional, not to mention spiritual. I choose this over a fickle lusty affair with only the hot and sexy parts of practice. You know, the parts that usually end up marketed.
If I told you all the reasons you should do yoga beyond the ones I generally market, you probably wouldn’t even come.
Because to sign up for that—for the all encompassing inferno of what it is to explore yourself through yoga—is a once in a lifetime offer that takes some courage to accept. If you want to backbend your way to bliss that’s fine, but don’t expect the high to last all that long. It is not sustainable. I assure you.
In fact, in the days since I have left the happy shiny land of the “yoga system that shall not be named” I have to say my practice is deeper, richer and more well rounded. To me that is a mark of success in practice.
So do I think yoga will make you happier?
Yes, I do. It does make you happier, better, more joyful both initially and in the end, but in the middle it will really piss you off, not to mention make you cry.
Teacher, writer, artist, spiritual activist, body poet, and forever a student, Livia Shapiro is a yoga teacher whose work is dedicated to helping people re-wild their body, mind, and heart through the practice of yoga. Her yoga style is a thoughtful and creative blend of years of study in Anusara yoga, Rajanaka Tantric philosophy, modern psychology, 5 Rhythms dance and earth-based ritual ceremony. You can follow Livia at her blog here.
A Maryland native, Livia began her study of yogic traditions at 15 through the lens of mythology and iconography. Her interest then turned to the mat and since her teens she has been diving into the vast realm of yoga-new and old. Having begun teaching yoga in college, Livia has since taught in Baltimore where she began a grass roots donation based only yoga “studio”, Vermont where she ran programs for the UVM athletic teams, and Connecticut where she studied the art of creative, masterful teaching and studio management. She now teaches and makes her home in Boulder, Colorado alongside her beloved engineer (her muse) and their two cats. When not teaching she is studying, writing, dancing, hiking, cooking, reading, making art, and doing life simply and fully.
Livia is currently pursuing a Masters in Somatic Psychology and Body Psychotherapy from Naropa University in Boulder. She is passionate about the ongoing conversation of yoga in all its forms- asana, devotion, knowledge, and service- all as invitations of self inquiry, deep play, and sensual embodiment.
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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