A question of happiness
What makes you happy? A random fellow traveller asked me this question when we recently crossed paths in Myanmar. It was a question I have asked myself at regular intervals throughout my life, sometimes by volition and sometimes not.
The question certainly arose involuntarily when I suffered stress related anxiety attacks in my late twenties. My answer was to launch myself into my career, sport, modern Western psychology (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), various ancient Indo spiritual practices and ‘new age’ philosophies. All contributed in varying degrees to my well being.
The question arose again in my early forties with full blown depression. Having attained a solid personal and social support network and a certain amount of professional and financial success, I found myself having to manage my ‘happiness’ with prescribed drugs.
After many years of stability, I had no sooner concluded that ‘there is no more to life than physical existence and that the human being is only a bio-chemical entity’[i] when I was whacked again by another bout of depression. Not keen to up my dosage, I was again drawn to trying various alternative remedies (elimination diet, dietary supplements, various forms of energy healing etc).
Then came yoga…
I had been practising hatha yoga for a number of years by then – drawn to the activity primarily to maintain strength and flexibility in my aging body. As I had previously noticed in my sporting days, I came out of physical activity with a greater sense of well being and had some inkling then of the benefit of taking time out, albeit in a non-mindful way. In the depths of my most recent ‘downer’, I attended one particular yoga class that focused more heavily on breath, or on what is called ‘prana’ in the yoga tradition,’ chi’ or ‘qui’ in more eastern traditions or ‘spiritus’ in Latin. The immediate positive impact of this class motivated me to learn more and to subsequently undertake a yoga teacher training course. My yoga journey also motivated me to contact the ‘random fellow traveller’ I met in Myanmar, the talented Australian film maker, Mike Worsman. Together we created the following short video ‘A cure for the chaos’, which looks at how we can remedy our crazy, busy modern lives.
One of my yoga text books referred to Gerard Blitz, who both founded the organisation I worked in for twenty years and who is also accredited for introducing hatha yoga to Europe. In later life, he is quoted as saying “It’s not holidays that are important, but holidays of the spirit, the state of internal freedom”. In our video, Mike Worsman and I encourage ‘holidays of the spirit’ – time out to focus on our body, our breath and our thoughts and perhaps find a mechanism to maintain happiness whilst working towards a ‘state of internal freedom’.
About the author: Louise Hewitt worked in travel management for many years before completing and Executive MBA (UNSW/Sydney University). She has also worked in the not-for-profit and arts sectors and now studies yoga in all its forms.
[i] Eknath Easwaran, 1985 in his Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita