Book Review: Happiness

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HappinessThich Naht Hanh

Not all the books at our studios are what you’d think of as “yoga books”. Most aren’t actually.

Happiness by Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t really address the asana (pose) part of yoga. What it does address is mindfulness and that’s really the base of the yoga we practice. Breathing, being present, letting go – it’s all mindfulness. The book starts simply: “mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present” Sounds easy right? Well everyone who spent that first 5 minute Savasana thinking about all the other places they could be, or things they could be doing, knows that being present takes some practice. And that’s what Thich Nhat Hanh offers the reader, practices for being present.

The first practice – Conscious Breathing. Have I convinced you it’s a yoga book yet? Hanh says “Conscious breathing is the key to uniting body and mind and bringing the energy of mindfulness into each moment of our life”. That’s the goal – being present in each moment of our lives, experiencing each breath.

These practices are simple, things to say or do to bring you back to the present. Without controlling the breath, he recommends you just notice it: “Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in. Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.” Even if the breathing feels labored or awkward bringing your attention to the breath will help to steady it. From there you can purposefully use the breath to calm the body. “Breathing in, I’m aware of my body. Breathing out, I release all the tension in my body.” By focusing on each breath you let go of everything else, your focus is solely on the present moment.

There are a lot of practices offered other than Conscious Breathing. A Walking Meditation to be aware of each step you take and your surroundings; Mindful Eating to bring your full attention to the food and people you are with when you eat; and Touching The Earth to help return to the earth, to your roots and your connectedness to everything.

Throughout the book resting is encouraged. Not falling asleep on your couch, not watching Youtube videos while at work, and not even reading. Real rest, just being. We as a society don’t like to be still. “We think that happiness and well-being are not possible in the here and now. That belief is inherent in us. We received the seed of that belief from our parents and grandparents … but the teaching of the Buddha is that we can be happy right here, right now.” That’s why that first Savasana is a challenge, maybe the first 50 Savasanas, maybe the first 500, are all a challenge. We are not used to being still. If we can learn to let go of the need to be constantly moving, then we can be comfortable in the moment.

In each moment there is plenty to rejoice about, but often we get caught up looking at the negatives. The idea is not to ignore the bad, but notice it and then notice the next moment. “When you walk in the garden, you may see that a tree is dying. You may feel sorry about that and you may not be able to enjoy the rest of the garden that is still beautiful. You allow one dying tree to destroy your appreciation of all the other trees that are still alive, vigorous, and beautiful.” The garden is your life, and if you’re too caught up caring for the one tree, worrying about the one thing you said, or anxious about the possible outcome, you miss out on so much more. So experience the good and the bad, be grateful for it all, because it’s all you have.

Thich Nhat Hanh uses every moment as a reminder of the present moment. Each step, each breath, every person you greet is an opportunity to experience your life.

–Gretchen

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