Everything we do in life, and every way in which we behave, affects everything else. Modern way of thinking tends to see situations, objects and people as separate entities which are, to a great degree, isolated from each other. In truth, everything is interconnected in the great web of life, and the way we behave in one situation will make an impression on us, and affect the way we deal with whatever comes next.
We can truthfully say that every one of our actions becomes an affirmation, and it attracts to itself the same kind of energy it put out. Actions create habits, and our habits will greatly influence our state of mind. A habit of complaining, for example, will give us great mental misery; a habit of worrying will make us into stressed people; a habit of gratitude will make us appreciative; a habit of acceptance will bring us peace of mind, and so on.
This principle of affirmation is usually understood to apply to the spoken word, but it also works with regards to our physical bodies and the ways we use it. For example: if we come home after a long day at work, collapse in the sofa and turn on the TV, this is an affirmation of fatigue, and perhaps even laziness. After a few days following the same ritual, this affirmation will have become a habit, and our state of mind and our personality will change accordingly and reflect that lower level of energy. On the other side, if you simply sit down in the sofa with controlled movements, instead of collapsing, and turn on the TV with a conscious decision of relaxing (rather than with the passivity of no energy), the effect in your state of mind will be much more positive.
So, you see, our every action is an influencer of our state of happiness (or the lack of it). Among everything we can do in this regard, two things I have found to be especially helpful: keeping the spine straight, and smiling.
Keep Your Spine Straight
A person’s spine and posture is perhaps the first indicator of their current mood. Visualize someone who is lumping forward, with their spine bent, eyes downcast. Try to imagine that person, in that same posture, exclaiming: “I feel so happy!” Difficult to do, isn’t it? Now, visualize someone who is standing up straight, chest out, eyes looking up: would he be likely to be having sad thoughts at the moment? Probably not!
Even as the posture works as an indicator of a person’s state of mind, it also effects that same state of mind in that person. In other words, you can induce a positive change in your mood by simply changing your posture!
Try to stand and sit with your back straight whenever possible; push your chest out a little bit; roll your shoulder blades back, and then relax them. Stay in that position for as long as you can. At the beginning you might feel, after a while, some discomfort due to the fact that your back muscles are not accustomed to this wholesome position, but that feeling of discomfort or pain will pass with enough practice. The important thing is that, now, your body is expressing the happiness that you want to feel inside. And, by doing so, it will affirm it!
This is a very simple thing to practice, but the benefits are great. It is also not always easy to keep up with it, and here lies much of its power…
Life being always fluctuating, the experiences we get from it are always mixed: about as many “good” ones as “bad” ones. Of course, it is very easy to keep our spine straight when good experiences come to us, but you will notice that, when something bad happens to you, suddenly it will become very difficult to hold a good posture. That happens because of that new push of the mind towards sadness and the message it sends to your body. If, in those moments, you put out an extra effort of will to keep the right posture anyway, and stick with it, you will find that your feelings of sadness will quickly depart when thus challenged!
The beauty of this practice is that it does not depend on anything that is out of your control. The circumstances that put you in a sorrowful mood may be infinite in their variety; trying to cheer yourself by thinking about it will, more often than not, make you sink more into the mood. This solution, however, is central, and therefore works in every circumstance. What is more: unlike the varying fortunes of life, this depends only on you!
Another practice in the same vein is the simple act of smiling sincerely and from the heart. As with the bodily posture, this is something that, while usually a reflection of mental state, can be used as a tool instead, to induce happiness.
Simply smile, sincerely and often! Again, this is very easy when circumstances are favorable, but what of when they are against us? Can we, or is it even appropriate to, smile in the face of them? Outwardly, perhaps not always, but inwardly and in private, we can always do that. You will find that, if you produce a sincere smile when things are not going your way, the burden in your mind will be much reduced, you will be able to think more clearly, and what is more, you won’t lose your happiness over it.
This is, of course, a challenge. But it is only by facing these challenges that we can learn to take control over our state of mind, instead of having it bounce haphazardly between joy and sorrow, depending on what life throws at us. It takes willpower to smile in the face of, for example, a heartbreak, or a huge monetary loss. However, being miserable is not going to make things better, is it? Why, then, go with it? Brooding over your problems will only magnify them in your mind. Smiling is both an antidote and a solution, as it takes you out of your slump and helps give you some perspective over whatever challenge you are facing.
Try this: when you wake up in the morning, as the very first thing you do, bring to mind a very happy circumstance in your life; fill yourself with the feeling of it, and then physically smile. Let your first act of every day be a smile! With practice, you can do away with thinking about a happy circumstance, and you will learn to bring out that joy without the fetter of a memory. Your life will soon become much more joyful that way.
The Yoga Behind These Practices
Smiling and good posture: they seem like trivial pieces of advice to give. And yet, as I hope you will find out with their practice, following this seemingly menial advice can have a tremendous effect in your life. How is this possible?
The answer is evident if we look for an explanation in the science of yoga: it tells us that when the general direction of the life-force (prana), or energy, in our spine is upward, we feel uplifted. When that flow is generally downward, we feel downcast. On an energy level, then, another reason why keeping the spine straight is helpful is because the upward-flowing energy is then unimpeded. You can imagine your spine as a water hose: if the hose is bent, then the water cannot pass through; similarly, when our spine is bent, the energy cannot flow upwards, and our general sense of well-being and happiness is diminished.
As for why smiling works: it is the simplest means available to us by which the energy in our spine flows upward. Simple as that.
A yogi is able to feel and control these currents of energy within his body. Thus, through a little self-observation, these practices and many others become evident and natural for one who desires peace of mind, or joy. Our happiness and unhappiness are, ultimately, our own to grasp. The person who allows his emotions run amok like leaves in the storm of life will be ever alternating between the two states, finding satisfaction in neither. The wise man (or woman!) takes control of his own reactive process, and thus finds an inner joy that is unconditional, and impossible to break. The simple practices given in this article will enable him to do precisely that.
Wishing you joy and happiness in life,