“Happiness is like the musk deer. The ancient scripts have a fable about this animal which has a scented spot above its forehead that gives off the musk fragrance. This deer runs here and there in search of the scent, not knowing that the scent is coming from its own forehead.”
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation and
Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda
One of yoga’s most powerful gifts is its encouragement of introspection. In most of our modern lives, we rarely take the time to simply sit and quietly reflect; to feel or listen to what is inherently within us.
We’re inundated with so many external messages and stimulations – social media, advertisements, instant messages, work, school, and news – that we become too distracted to look within ourselves for the answers that elude us in the external world.
We’re told, time and time again, that our needs, desires, and solutions are all “out there.” We just need to study more, exercise more, socialize more, and buy more. However, when we think, “I just need to ______ more,” we’re setting ourselves up for failure because we’ve already bought into one crippling belief: that we’re inadequate.
Yoga philosophy teaches us that the happiness we need is already inside of us.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali suggests that while we are reminded of our happiness when we see a smile on the street or spend time with friends, we can never be given happiness. Rather, it is always dormant within us. When we only rely on external forces to bring out our inner happiness, we limit ourselves to only being happy when others will it.
How to use this as a theme in a yoga class
Begin your class in a seated meditation. After centering students, share Satchidananda’s parable about the musk deer. Read it slowly and encourage the students to think about its meaning. Ask students to meditate on where they look for happiness, and then share with them the idea that their happiness isn’t being given to them by external forces. Instead, the external forces are simply a reminder of their existing happiness. Let them know that they too have the power and control to bring out their own inner happiness, without waiting for anything from the outside world.
Continue to return to the theme of the “happiness within” as you move through your asana practice. Encourage students to feel joy within their movements and postures, even if they are simultaneously experiencing difficulty. Remind them, that their physical experience does not need to be connected to their emotional state. We can be uncomfortable and still happy. We can be exhausted and still happy.
As you end your class, bringing students to Savasana or a final seated meditation, remind them that happiness is something they are always carrying within. Instead of waiting for something external to bring it out, they should bring it out themselves. This way, they will not only regain control of their emotional well-being, but also serve as a reminder to others who struggle to find their inner happiness – whether that be through a passing smile or warm embrace. Others will see that happiness radiating from within, and be reminded that their own happiness rests inside them, too.
For more information
If you’d like to read more about this theme, it is referenced and expanded upon in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Book Two (Sādhana Pāda), Verse 8. While Patanjali speaks directly about identification with painful experiences in this verse, Sri Swami Satchidananda’s interpretation brings in conceptions of finding happiness within.
If you have your own interpretation on this verse or any thoughts on inner happiness, please feel free to share them in the comments below!
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