If yogis had spirit animals, mine would be a wise-cracking, spunky little turtle with sparkly wings and a rainbow-colored horn where my third eye should be.
Yes, think something along the lines of an amphibious, narwhal-unicorn beast. You get the picture.
Although I began practicing yoga eight years ago, my development has been slow at times, majestic at others—but regardless, I always find my own way into a self-paced, steady flow.
I am so addicted to this art, but I used to struggle—like I am certain so many other busy people (with mutant spirit animals yearning to practice asanas all day long) do—with the self-commitment required for yoga to work its magic.
However, over the years, as an elementary school teacher, wife, and mother—and considering my general neurotic tendencies—I required an outlet for the accumulated stress. I have frequently been caught awkwardly side-shuffling away from all the chaos before me and, instead, sprinting to the nearest yoga class.
Lately, I’ve been striving to create more happy places that will nourish me beyond the yoga studio.
In my most recent pursuit to improve my home, I decided to tackle our shed.
At the mention of that word, I can almost hear ominous, dramatic, horror-suspense music starting to play. Imagine mountains of clothing no one wears anymore piled in one corner, old board games no one has played in years crammed on shelves alongside boxes of long-outgrown toys, outdated and sometimes broken household items, and many other mystery boxes with random, long-forgotten tools or keepsakes—who really knows?
When would I ever have the time, energy, and motivation to deal with it all? The whole scene left me feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and depressed.
I knew I needed to make a dent in it to feel right again—maybe write out a list or start to organize things into piles. I knew I needed to take this initial step, but first: side-shuffle to yoga.
No, I was not procrastinating. Yes, it did slow me down. But slow is a valuable way of life, especially when we’re wanting to do things right.
Following the gentle, encouraging voice of one of my most favorite yoga instructors on the topic of manifesting happiness (because synchronicities like this always happen when I practice), I arrived at five simple epiphanies as I pretzeled my way through an assortment of deep poses:
1. If we never had to endure the darker, messier moments of life, how could we ever hope to appreciate the neat, de-cluttered light?
As it turns out, we allow ourselves to feel negative emotions like pity, grief, or regret because these emotions trigger a reward system in our brains. Our minds get caught in a loop distracted by these dark rain clouds, playing into a narrative that helps us escape reality.
I have found myself at times riding the waves of my emotions. The more I worry, the happier I seem to be when a solution appears. Like ocean waves to a surfer, the greater the difference between the crest and the trough, the more exciting the ride.
A quote from Michael Novak comes to mind: “We really feel happier when things look bleak. Hope is endurance. Hope is holding on and going on and trusting in the Lord.”
Yoga has taught me the physical and mental endurance. Yoga gives me hope.
2. Finding reasons to be grateful for the things we have often helps to determine what is truly essential.
Gratitude is critical to happiness. My yoga instructor urged us, as proud citizens of a first world country, to consider the many reasons we must give thanks.
When I approached the concept in my own life, I found the need to create space, both mentally and physically, to simply express gratitude toward all the things that truly matter.
Nothing in my shed really mattered, and very few things stood out as specific items to be grateful for. Oddly enough, the lawnmower, edger, and the rake turned up at the top of my list. Everything else was just taking up valuable, beautiful space.
Is the hassle of saving things for a hypothetical garage sale where they may or may not be purchased worth the stress of organizing and storing all this junk?
My heart leapt as we warmed up the spine with a Standing Twist, and as I exhaled, I released a big mental “no!”
I inhaled with gratitude back into Mountain Pose.
3. Our feelings, like our belongings, should be put away in neatly labeled boxes.
Happiness as a constant state of mind can be quite elusive. Whether, like Aristotle, you believe it is a pursuit, or instead believe that happiness is a matter of choice as William James asserts, finding joy in life can be a challenge—depression, after all, is a pretty common affliction.
My honey-voiced yoga instructor reminded us, “In order to address depression, or any negative emotion for that matter, we must first be aware of the feeling and identify it, give it a label, and put it in a box—not to repress, but rather to distance ourselves for a moment.”
Neatly labeled boxes? Who would’ve thought: the same thing that restores order to chaotic holiday decorations in my own shed could also create a happier place in my own mind?
I was in a Warrior Pose, and felt a cheesy yoga pun coming on: this is a battle I can win.
I inhaled to Reverse Warrior.
4. Deciding is key.
I have so many decisions to make, and for every week, day, and hour I go without deciding, I allow myself to remain caught in the loop of misery and distress.
The less I have, the fewer decisions I need to make.
My head is a precious temple, a sacred storage shed of ideas, which, when left floating around, wreak havoc on the usual feng shui needed to maintain blissful mental harmony.
All the “what ifs” wafted into my thoughts, and I began to hesitate: What if someone I know needs the knee scooter I purchased for my daughter when she sprained her ankle last year? What if my now 18-year-old son asks to see his ancient collection of Pokémon cards one day? What if my mother judges me for my wastefulness, or my lack of resourcefulness?
What if…? What if…? Ahhhhh!
Anxiety spiders began to crawl under my skin and burrow their way into my brain with a myriad of more negative possibilities. “I am in charge here!” I declared to one particularly beautiful spider who had my mom’s almond-shaped, ever-critical hazel eyes. “Remember to come back to the breath,” an angel’s calm voice called out as she strolled past me, complimenting my form, which was now flowing in a sweaty, muscle-memorized Vinyasa.
5. Sometimes, our endurance requires the magic touch of others.
An hour later, as the yoga class came to an end and I found myself in everybody’s favorite pose—Savasana, or Corpse Pose, my yoga instructor delivered the final ingredient to manifest happiness: physical contact with others.
In class, touch comes in the form of a gentle, lavender-scented oil shoulder rub from my gracious teacher. At home, I realized that manifesting a happy place within the confines of the shed would require hands-on involvement from my entire family.
In a broader sense, someone else’s touch, both figuratively and literally, can turn an enormous chore into a much more manageable endeavor.
In retrospect, some might accuse me of being entirely over dramatic about my shed.
And the post-yoga me would say those people were right—but they should also practice yoga and stop judging the pre-yoga me.
Happy places really do begin on the inside. The clarity of a decluttered, organized, and decisive mind can bring us newfound peace.
Another’s touch softens our edges and reminds us we are not alone in this world.
Yoga brings us out of our weird little turtle shells and makes us stop holding our breath as we plant our feet firmly on the solid ground of the present moment.
If we seek a happy place, my friends, the space is already within us—everything we need to manifest joy is readily available.
Author: Veronica Clack
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
Social Editor: Lieselle Davidson