A Yogic Cure For Anxiety and Unhappiness
By Ray Greenberg
From Issue 35: Summer 2017
Did you know that the goal of yoga is not to get into lots of interesting physical positions? Rather the goal of most yoga is “self-realization.” It is the merging of one’s little mind with universal consciousness. When this occurs, a person is at peace because they realize that they are part of everything and everything is part of them. There are many, many practices that help us to transcend our physical bodies, but the type of yoga I practice and teach is very practical. We do what works.
According to famed yogi Swami Sivananda, whose Sivananda Yoga Ranch in nearby Woodbourne, NY, is an outpost of serenity, “Ways are many, but God is One.” I take this to mean that there are lots of paths to the peace and equanimity many of us want.
One of my favorite methods did not reach me in a yogic setting, but has been a great boon to my personal quest for evenness of mind and optimal emotional health. I am embarrassed to admit that from a young age I have had an insatiable urge to achieve, to obtain and to garner praise. Sadly, no matter what I got or accomplished, I could not take it in and enjoy it. As soon as one thing was done, I was onto the next thing—rarely savoring the good things that were all around me—and unable to give myself or others credit for what was lovely and fine. Habitually, I identified what was wrong and needed further attention until, one day, I found a way out.
I set aside between five and 15 minutes. I prefer the longer time but in the beginning it might be hard to give yourself that. Do what makes you comfortable. Now, identify three things that made you happy in the last 24 hours. It could be something you said or did or experienced, a connection you made with someone, or a way you stood up for yourself or held your tongue. It might be a new recipe you tried, a story you heard, or a change in the weather.
Make a mental note of it, and when you have identified three things, think about each one individually, examining what lead to each thing and giving thanks to all the players, human or otherwise, that may have had a hand in creating your joy. If you run out of time or have trouble coming up with three, don’t sweat it. You can continue tomorrow. Do this every day for a week. If you like it, do it every day for a month or a year.
I did it for two or three years until looking for the positive in things had become habitual. Recognizing the contributions others were making to my well being became second nature. My constant yearning was greatly diminished and my ability to take stock and appreciate what was going well, hugely enhanced.
Before adopting this practice, I had carried a lot of low-grade sadness and anxiousness, though it didn’t tip over into a clinical depression until my marriage fell apart when I was in my mid-thirties. It was in an effort to help myself out of my funk that I read some books by Martin EP Selligman, first Learned Optimism, and later Authentic Happiness, which helped me create spaciousness and joy that I doubt I ever would have experienced otherwise. There was much of interest in these books, but the simple practice I have described is what really stood out for me. It changed the way I look at things. If you find you are constantly aware of what is wrong and have trouble feeling supported by the universe, I suggest you try it and see if it is as powerful for you as it was for me.
I smile much more now, since I am in touch with what I enjoy in life and like to recognize it. I am much more accessible and less lonely. I hope that knowing this worked for me will encourage you to find a path that helps you to improve your own life.