April 22, 2012

An Anatomy of Joy.

Soften into Gratitude with Yoga

As the sun shone down on the happy little community of Bellingham, WA., I sat alone in my small, spare studio apartment, watching an event on my laptop computer. The event was a talk given by researcher Brene Brown called The Anatomy of Joy. I had been following Dr. Brown’s work since watching her 2010 Ted talk on vulnerability, and was happy to give a small part of this rare sunny day up in order to watch this event, which, I was informed, would not be shown at a later time and date.

Mrs. Brown’s research centers on shame, joy, fear, love and belonging, and has greatly inspired my own work. If you have not yet read what this woman has written or watched her speak, I highly suggest you do so. She is engagingly human and wicked smart.

So I was sitting there, watching and listening, taking notes on shame, fear and the human need for connection, when she started talking about gratitude. She said that gratitude is much like yoga.  She told the audience that she has a “yoga attitude.”  She lives her life in a “yoga manner,” she buys more lululmoon clothing than most yogis, and she believes in the yoga lifestyle, but if she were asked to go into a pose, she would not be able to do it. Her explanation? Because yoga, like gratitude, must be practiced to be effective, and for various reasons, she does not have a yoga practice.

Simply having an attitude of gratitude is not enough. For joy to be experienced, gratitude, empathy, boundary setting, and resisting the desire to numb down must be practiced consciously.

She continued describing all the things that go into cultivating an Anatomy of Joy:

  • >cultivating self-compassion
  • >letting go of perfectionism
  • >cultivating the practices of play and rest
  • >letting go of exhaustion and productivity as status symbols
  • >cultivating calm and stillness
  • >letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
  • >embracing vulnerability

The more she described the path to this place of joy, the more it sounded exactly like all of the things I do while I am on the mat. She used phrases like “lean into joy” and “soften into gratitude.” She was describing emotional events as physical practices, and the connection to yoga immediately became more direct and logical.

While this information was not a surprise to me, it did connect a lot of previously unconnected dots. It explained why my life has improved so dramatically since I started my yoga practice, why my closest friends have noticed a marked improvement in my attitude and behavior, and why I try so hard to get everyone I know to try yoga at least once. Because it is powerful.

Yoga, if practiced honestly, will change you, and in effect, change the world. In short, a yoga practice is capable of providing its practitioners their very own Anatomy of Joy. This alone is worth the price of admission.


Editor: Brianna Bemel

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