Most of us practice our yoga for a reason.  For some, it’s about keeping our body in shape.  For me it’s about keeping my mind in check, getting clarity, and being at the helm of my life.

At the same time, no matter how “unattached” I might think I am to the pleasures of the world, if I get ruthlessly honest with what I want out of life – it’s to live happily and to feel like I have a purpose in life that has some meaning to it.  I want my yoga practice to help me with that.

I guess I’m not alone.  It seems a lot of people are looking for meaning and happiness in life.  So I’ve been doing some reading around the subject and came across this dilemma – happiness or meaningfulness?  Are they the same thing? And can we have both?

It appears they are not the same.  Stanford researcher Jennifer Aacker and her team found some answers in 2013 that identified the key differences between meaningfulness and happiness.   They found:

  • Happiness is about the present – Meaning is about linking past present and future
  • Deep relationships increase our meaning in life whereas time spent with friends just make us happy
  • A meaningful life has lots of negative events and issues that we have to deal with and overcome.
  • A happy life can get boring if it’s just  the same happy events day after day (probably accounting for many retirees feeling they have no life any more despite their relatively happy daily routines).
  • Raising children may have some joyful and happy moments but parenting does not always make us happy – but it does give us a sense of meaning in life.

So if that is true, how can yoga and meditation help make us happy?  Or give us meaning in life?

Many of our yoga practices are geared towards being “in the moment” and becoming more “present centered”.  This is usually great for people with a lot of stress and it helps us slow down and enjoy being here now – a sense of happiness in the present.  But what happens when we go back and engage our world?  That blissful state we reached in our practices often disappears unless we are either super vigilant or super evolved.  (Count me out on both of those).  Perhaps there is another way?

To get a sense of meaning in life we can use what some of the research uncovered to point us in the right direction.  It seems people who have meaningful lives generally know themselves well and tend accept themselves with both their strengths and weaknesses.  In Brene Brown’s terms they don’t have the need to either “puff up” or “shrink down”. They engage their community and they generally have clear intentions that they feel empowered to manifest.

Sounds simple, but if I read that list and say “doesn’t sound like me”, then what are my chances of getting there?  Fortunately, we now have access to powerful yoga based processes and practices to help us on our way.

The first step is to know “what’s happening now”- (Awareness.) And I know from experience that my body can help me answer this question more easily if I can listen to it and take it along with my mind.   Now I might not like the answer I get, so there needs to be built into the process a time for “being with it” without trying to fix anything just yet – (Patience, Acceptance and Self-validation.)  Again, I find my body very helpful in this part of the process.  Finally in the last process for change, it comes down to where the rubber meets the road – putting intention in action – (Empowerment). My body can help me out with this as well.

This process engages what we now refer to as “embodied mindfulness”.  Here’s something you can try.  Next time you face a choice point in life and need a little clarity – instead of trying to “figure it out”, do this instead.  (It’s a very short and simplified sample of the longer process described above.)

  1. Engage your body in moderate movement for 1 minute (any movement  that you feel like)
  2. Place your left hand over your chest and think of the big question you are considering but don’t try to answer it.
  3. Now ask your body the question and let it tell your hand its answer.  (The answer might be in words or images, or even sensation or feeling but let it truly come from your body.)
  4. Try it on.  Does it reflect what is true for you?

There is clearly much more much to learn about how to create happiness and meaning in life, but I believe that it’s not beyond reach.  I also know from experience that a mind-body and yoga-based approach to transformation in life is a great way to start for anyone serious of stepping into new possibilities.  Perhaps our bodies hold the key to connecting past, present, and future and finding both greater meaning in life long term AND more happiness in each moment.