In my last semester of college, I took a lecture on the Science of Living Well. The course was waitlisted at over 200 students, all of us eager to understand the secret to happiness — as supported by dense case studies, significant statistics and the latest discoveries of positive psychology.
We began each class with a 5 minute meditation, followed by class-wide announcements of "good news" before diving into the work of Abraham Maslow, Martin Seligman, John Gottman among others...
Amidst a flurry of intimidating senior seminars, this course was a game changer. I'd sit there with my coffee (because, student) and favorite peanut butter cookie (because, balance) and relish in the fact that meditation had reached the castle-tower heights of the University classroom... Praise Be. I'd delight in hearing the "weekly wins" of my peers and momentarily forget the hours of reading and writing that lay ahead. It felt... refreshing, accessible, revealing of what students really need, which IMHO is a safe space to ask vulnerable questions, to celebrate small wins... and perhaps most importantly, to feel held.
In school, I often found myself grappling with the weight of the world through the over-intellectualized lens (and privilege) of higher education. The pressure of high performance, justifying the cost of a diploma with dreams of changing the world... metabolizing my own identity evolution and holding tight to my new off-stage role as "student". To simply get into a head space of learning and gratitude and presence before "unpacking" the literature... a little mind food before inhaling brain food made all . of . the . sense.
This brings me to a most interesting fact that just happens to coincide with mindful practice and then we'll be done with it:
Every thought we think, every feeling we feel, has a chemical signature. So when we think unhappy, negative, angry thoughts, our brain produces actual chemicals (aka: neurotransmitters) that mirror those feelings. The same is true for the positive/happy/grateful flip side. Naturally, these neurotransmitters swim on to affect all systems of the body and mind. Imagine, then, what's happening on a neurological level when we mentally (and physically) embody warrior pose, dancer pose, child's pose...happy baby, sleeping hero? *pause for marination
We've all heard it said that our day/life will go in the direction of our thoughts. This is supported by science, ya'll — there's a college course named after it.
Cut to: times are not pretty *and* this too shall pass. It seems like the only thing in our control these days is our breath, our thoughts, and the 'food' we consume however literal, mental, overly-intellectual. High time for a deep sigh & a cleanse, ammmirigh?
Hokay, we've arrived. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras present the Eight limbs of Yoga, designed as guidelines to live a meaningful, purposeful life. A kind of thirst quench for the sustainable-happiness-seekers looking for answers. You might have heard the Sanskrit words yamas & niyamas... the 1st and 2nd limbs of Yoga that outline ethical practices and personal observances which together, bring layers of meaning to the work we do on *and off* our mat.
Today we're going to have a moment with Saucha, the first Niyama that translates to purity. As an observance, saucha presents as a reminder to check yourself:
What mind/brain/body 'food' are you chewing on these days? What thoughts are you swallowing? How many cup-fulls of feelings have you chased with a mindless scroll/swipe/series that didn't particularly leave you satiated?
Going to give you space to contemplate that and a quick tip for how to bio-hack your present/re-member your past/re-envision your future:
Close your eyes. Inhale a positive thought, exhale a negative feeling. Repeat x4.
Slowly, carefully. . . turn the corners of your mouths towards your ears.
look up, go up...
Yale University is currently offering it's most popular class ever, The Science of Well-being as an online course for FREE.