the goal of all goals
The aim of yoga and in the universal pursuit in life is expressed by the Sanskrit word paramananda, or more sustained joy. For whatever we see as the goal of our existence, we ultimately choose to associate ourselves with only that which we believe will lead to paramananda. Whether it is money, fame, family, service, union with God, enlightenment or a stable mind, each is valued only as much as they are equated with an increased feeling of lasting joy. In the end, whatever our personal situation or philosophical orientation, paramananda is the quality all goals aspire to achieve.
According to yoga’s holistic anatomy, The Five Mayas, the dimension that manifests the potential for more sustained joy is the ananda-maya, or the emotional body. Because this core component is the most subtle of dimensions, it easily permeates and influences all other aspects of the body. Those who are more joyful tend to stay healthier, heal more quickly, learn more easily and maintain clearer values.
In studies of addiction, the ananda-maya is described as an emotional thermostat, ranging from the darkest depression on one end of the spectrum to the deepest joy on the other. We each develop an emotional disposition somewhere along the scale. This emotional temperature is somewhat influenced by genetics and pre-natal conditions, but is primarily shaped by life-experience, specifically our earliest, deepest, most formative relationships. Though the flow of daily experiences will register as being relatively more joyful or depressing given particular circumstances, each individual starts from and returns to their regular set point on the scale.
The condition of our emotional body controls the way we feel about ourselves, other people, fate, God and the state of things in general. It is the unspoken, deeply felt definition of who we are and the way life is. Someone whose emotional thermostat is set further to the negative side of the scale is more likely to find fault with and maintain resentment toward themselves, others and the situations they face. On larger issues, they tend to worship a more authoritative, punishing God and can struggle with the notion of a higher power entirely, asking, “How could any God let all of these horrible things happen in the world?”
An individual with an emotional preset that is closer to the joyful end of the spectrum tends to see the positive side of things and is more hopeful and forgiving. Such a person is more easily able to embrace the vision of a gentle, loving God or some other force that supports the universe. They spread their optimism by encouraging others to reach their fullest potential and engage positive thoughts and behaviors.
not enough love in the world
In this model, those most likely to develop full-blown addictions have an emotional preset closer to the negative end of the spectrum. Thus, addiction is based upon more than simple genetics or a single traumatic experience. According to both accepted addiction theory and yoga, the root of the problem lies within the addict’s negative emotional predisposition. It is their fundamental shortage of joy and the result and tendencies toward fear, resentment and sadness, which entices the alcoholic to drink, the addict to use and the overeater to overeat.
the missing link
An essential component in healing the emotional body is the engagement in relationship. Initially shaped through relationships, the emotional body can also be refined through communion with others. Our relationships offer the opportunity to experience the greatest joys and deepest sorrows in life. Through them, we can move our established emotional set point and change our viewpoint through continuous, positive, long-term relationships that nourish and strengthen our core selves.
The need for healthy, healing relationships also explains why the first of yoga’s eight limbs is named yamas, or relationship. Patanjali offers several sutras to illuminate the guidelines for joyous relationships. In fact, the traditional yoga model prescribed one teacher for each student in order to provide guidance and support through a loving student-mentor relationship. Though few modern yogis enjoy an in-depth relationship with a teacher, it is a primary component in most Western healing modalities such as the therapist and client relationship in psychology. Without the aid of meaningful personal relationships, yoga, even with all its powerful tools, can only result in relatively superficial change, particularly in those with addictive tendencies. In my own case, for fifteen years, the patterns underlying my addiction such as perfectionism, self-destructiveness and competitiveness in the name of self-improvement were actually deepened through impersonal group yoga classes.
the future of yoga
As an awareness surrounding the importance of relationships has started to grow, more and more yoga teachers are receiving training to offer individualized, relationship-based instruction. Meanwhile, twelve-step programs with their emphasis on sponsorship and intimate sharing continue to offer the powerful, long-term fellowship needed to change the emotional thermostat and heal the emotional body. Interestingly, even the slightest positive movement on the underlying emotional scale generates an experience so profound it has commonly been referred to as a spiritual awakening. During this spontaneous shift in perception, the individual’s relationships with everyone and everything in their world dramatically evolve. This deeply emotional and life-changing experience is the key element for high-quality, long-term sobriety.
Read: Part one, part two, part three, part five, part six