If you look at the images of yogis strewn across the Internet, you'd have to believe that all yoga practitioners are continuously and exceptionally happy. In fact, it may have been one of the reasons you've decided to take up yoga yourself. Yoga has been marketed as a positivity pill and that promise of unbreakable cheer has attracted many to it. The downfall has been an increasingly dangerous pressure on yogis and yoga teachers to cleave to a facade of positivity no matter what the situation. This skin deep display keeps us from experiencing and expressing our real truths that are much more healing and helpful to society than going around simulating bliss.
Don't get me wrong, one of the wonderfully contagious benefits of yoga is it helps make you happier. Yoga practice strengthens the observer part of the mind, making you more conscious of your thoughts and drawing you continuously into the present. This is known to increase happiness, as most of our worry and anxiety comes from focusing on the past and future, agonizing over situations that are more often than not out of our control. Yoga can also help release tension from the body, help improve digestion, and help deepen sleep. All of this has a positive effect on our mood. When we are in balance we are happier. Yoga teaches us to find that balance and how to observe a situation from outside our own likes and dislikes. Through this practice we come to understand the fluctuating nature of emotions and therefor view conflict as transitory and non-personal. Happier yet.
I'd say it's accurate to sell the promise of increased happiness to the yoga curious, but it's extremely problematic. In our desire to convert everyone to the yoga path, we are selling so hard this image of the always positive yogi that there is no room for a dissenting view point. The yoga personas around are all cheery and bright and there is a major pressure to contribute to and keep up that appearance even when not feeling it inside. There is a sense that if you are not a happy yogi you are probably at fault and doing the yoga wrong.
Are all yoga practitioners continuously happy or is someone hiding the truth? These are the questions that taunt the even once in awhile not so happy yogi, increasing their discomfort and deepening their frustration. These feelings are added to the original angers which continue to be internalized and suppressed causing a stress and harm on the individual that has now doubled what it would have been if allowed its original expression.
Happiness is found in yoga, not by searching for it, not by expecting it, but by doing the practice and falling upon it. Trying for a specific result is actually not at all in alignment with the practice of yoga which asks us to be present and observe without categorization. It is in these moments that we stumble upon a feeling even more lasting and stable than happiness. This feeling can not be presented or sold. It stays with us hovering, an increased zen, a higher baseline of contentedness, an ease with the way things are.
More than happiness, a long time practitioner gains a sense of self, insight into others and a strong ability to discern. She can feel energy, interpret intention and light the way with a soft touch or with a sharp word. The pressure on her to always be "happy" and "positive" diminishes and denies her power which is rooted in truth and awareness.
It is time to call on our yogis, self-helpers, and wellness folks to value check and tweak the current yoga messaging to include, accept, and honor all seekers as they move through and observe their moods excepting themselves, embracing others, and constantly working to live a more authentic life. It is in this space that we can grow as a community toward a more anchored positivity and share that experience with others. If we can do this, in fact, we will all be just a bit happier!