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The Physiology of Joy

It is impossible to be upset while breathing deeply. If I asked you to “get mad,” you’d likely hold your breath, make fists with your hands, clench your teeth, or tense your facial muscles. And if I asked you to relax, you’d probably soften the jaw and shoulders, take a deep breath or release a long sigh. This begs the question: are you angry because of some "unfair" situation or circumstance, or simply because you’re not breathing? Are you joyful and stress-free because your body is without tension? Yoga reminds us again and again that how we feel and who we are is an ongoing choice that we make.

Reflection: The next time you hear something that upsets you, pause for a moment and take a deep breath. And another. Consciously decide how you will respond, and notice the effect. Try this on your yoga mat. If you come face to face with a challenging posture can you smile rather than grit your teeth? Cultivate a feeling of optimism over dread? Does your experience of the asana change? Practice first on your yoga mat, where you have the space to inquire and explore, and then use it as a tool that can be applied to your daily life. This is the essence and purpose of our practice.

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