Your happiness is the best gift you can give the ones you love.
I hold this gem of wisdom in my hand and no matter how I angle it, its simplicity is without flaw. I find myself repeating it often — to my yoga students, to myself, to my friends.
When I first heard it, some alarmed and rooted stigma of selfishness piped up within me. Yet I have learned in my life thus far that to be anything close to truly giving, you must first cultivate truly contented Self.
We tend to bar self love’s path with complexity and obstacles. We truly are capable of spinning elaborately tangled webs in our search for outsourced happiness.
But self love — true happiness — is inherently simple.
It is a practice, just like the practice of yoga.
Consider those chapters in your life when you neglected yourself entirely. They could have been prompted by having a kid, or a significant life change of partner or place or job or finance, or simply a depression that got the better of you. Think of the weeks or months or years in which you settled into a lack of care for yourself, which then, more likely than not, rippled into feelings of insecurity, weakness and uncertainty.
Recently, a friend coming out of such a chapter in her life wrote me after her first yoga class in a long time — “I can feel my strength already,” she wrote. It took 45 minutes or so for her to enter feeling one way and to leave feeling empowered and happy.
Fundamental to yoga, before any talk of asana, is the practice of approaching the mat, regardless of situation. It is a practice of installing yourself in a space — the space of the present — with just your body and your thoughts, thoughts that wane as breath deepens. This fundamental practice, to me, especially as a teacher — whose day in fast forward is a blur of all sorts of lives and bodies and emotions and dilemmas and illnesses and fears and triumphs through the door and onto mats and back out into the world again — this practice is the most profound teacher and life illuminator. It is the most effective platform from which you receive the infinitude of yoga’s benefits.
This is a practice first before it becomes a habit and then second nature. Much of yoga is instilling practice that you repeat so much it becomes a thing you do without needing to direct thought or intention to achieve it. Fortunately, it isn’t a struggle to act, to remind yourself to deep breathe or to get yourself to yoga class. It is a relief and it is profoundly rewarding.
Happiness is much like this practice of yoga. It doesn’t appear out of the blue, some sparkling diamond of your futuremind that you hope will someday magically materialize within reach. Happiness is not a never-ending, everything’s-brilliant, first-kiss high. I spent much of my younger life envisioning it that way.
Happiness is a contented, rooted love for oneself that cannot be shaken. It is a willingness to step onto the mat of your life, barefeet on this present ground and to do what brings song to your soul. To find what feels good, right now.
Tracing the full circle of my own practice of happiness, I arrive at my mother’s — like the adage says, her happiness a gift to me. I recall moments as a child between dreams and waking, in winter when everything is remembered more clearly — sensing the cold of the outer wall of my room mix with the warmth of pancakes and coffee drifting up from the kitchen below. I can hear my mom's steps, her movements, a word or two said out loud, as she daydreams and moves to her own rhythm below. The kids asleep. Outside, beautiful. The house, warm. The coffee strong. In these moments before I open my eyes, I experience deep presence. An erasure of the beating hand of the clock. A steeping in happiness.
My mother was standing in her own particular life and reveling in it — she was savoring. And me, I was a young girl wrapped in the warm glowing of her happiness in its coffee aroma and wintry pale light, absorbing a wisdom I would keep with me for life.
Her happiness a great gift to me.
It looks simple on paper, but this practice of happiness is essential. It is the mat on which we cultivate self, on which we leave all else aside to savor the many beautiful things in our individual lives. It is where we grow Presence, Gratitude, Mindfulness, Heart Happiness and Peace.
It is an unending gift to yourself and to the ones you love.
. . .
Grace is a yoga teacher and artist. Her writing has taken her from Anthropologie to journalism aboard a ship in Congo. When she gets to wander, she’s in the woods with her dog, soaking up the beauty.