What do Happiness, Etiquette, and Yoga Have in Common?
What do happiness, etiquette, and yoga have in common? I asked this question on our Facebook page a while ago and I got many likes but no answers. I also asked the question: Are you more motivated to do yoga in the studio or at home? Now this got you guys answering. Most answers could be placed in one of these categories:
Too many distractions at home
Because I am motivated by other people’s energy
The answers were unanimously in favor of practicing at the studio. They also focused on the joy and energy we get from being surrounded by people. I find this amazing since yoga is a solitary practice. Yoga is not like tennis, soccer or any other team sport where we play with each other. In yoga the interaction we get is simply the joy of being close to someone. Not having to do things alone. Clearly community energy is very important to us yogis.
Now I ask again: What do happiness etiquette and yoga have in common?
The short answer is that happiness, etiquette and yoga lives in symbiosis with community. That is community creates the platform of happiness, etiquette and yoga. But yoga, etiquette and happiness can also create community. Let me explain how this works. I will start with etiquette:
Here’s the scene…you’re about to walk into a bank, and the person just a few steps ahead of you lets the heavy beast of a door slam in your face…you sit down at the dinner table with friends and five minutes into your meal half the table is answering phone messages and browsing the web…after the late movie everybody walks to their cars alone, in the dark…you host parties at your home but don’t seem to get invited to anyone else’s parties.
Our lives are full of these experiences, and the list could go on. Of course, one could just accuse me of being an old snobbish curmudgeon, and there may be a small amount of truth in their accusation. But at the risk of sounding uncool, out of touch, and simply annoying, I will make a case for the importance of etiquette in our lives.
If you’ve been reading my earlier blogs, you know that I’m a very opinionated feminist. You may have read my cry out for liberal education, or my pledge to erase masculine and feminine symbols from teaching yoga, and so on. So you may be a bit surprised to hear me now express some of the benefits I find in old-fashioned manners.
Yes, I am indeed a more than capable, pretty powerful force to reckon with, but my heart still warms when someone holds the door for me. Not out of a need for physical help, but out of a need for connection. Which resonates with some of what I’m finding as I pour through psychology, sociology, and philosophy articles for teacher trainings and 40 days. These three concepts continue to emerge:
vulnerability as strength
reciprocity as social glue
and the need for personal connection, for mental health and a healthy society.
When we allow ourselves to be seen, rather than putting our energy toward keeping up appearances, we create the foundation for true connection. It takes tremendous inner strength and courage to show vulnerability! But this is how we form deep connections with others. When others see your vulnerability, they’re more likely to be vulnerable (reciprocity). But someone’s gotta make that first step. We actually have to stop our busyness, see each other, listen to each other, and reciprocate each other’s kindnesses if we’re to live happy, connected lives.
How in the world, you ask, does this have anything to do with etiquette???
Aha! You see etiquette has built in reciprocity rules, and reciprocity acts as the social glue…
You see when you hold the door for me, you’ve noticed that I was about to step into the building too. You looked up, out of your own world, and took a second to recognize mine. As a result, I smile and say thank you, because it feels good to be seen. This creates a second reaction in you… that is, you feel good too.
When we sit at dinner together and wait for everyone to be ready to eat, we recognize where others are in their lives. We take a moment from our life to wait, and to be grateful for each other, for the food prepared for us. Gratitude is like Prozac for the mind! Then as we continue eating and talking with each other (and not with our phones), we discover something amazing about each other, and start forming deep lasting connections.
When we leave a late show and we ask each other where we parked, it indicates we care. Escorting each other to our cars is more and more important as we live in an ever growing city–besides safety, it just lets us know we care for each other. We’re here together, and we’re willing to take the extra time to make sure we’re OK.
As for my last point, my parents had a very rich social life because it was considered cultural norm to invite back those who invited you. Anybody was welcomed into the circle as long as they played the reciprocal game. If somebody broke the rule over and over again, eventually that person was not invited for the next party. This was so deeply embedded in the culture, nobody had to explain it. As a result, though I grew up in a small family, we had a huge network of friends. These invites didn’t have to be formal–bunny slippers, a slice of cake and coffee did the trick. But somebody was over at least twice a week. How often do you see your friends? And before we cry out: Who has time! May I point out that we, on average, browse the web and watch TV about 2-4 hours a day. This is time looking at a screen, instead of each other.
With every little interaction lost, we lose a chance to feel joy, gratitude, and connection. However small these interactions are, they add up. We live in a society that is more connected technologically than ever before, but much less connected emotionally.
We crave connection, we crave to be with one another so much so, we’d prefer to do yoga silently next to each other instead of staying at home. We rather deal with traffic, parking, other people’s sweat and the extra fees… In short we need one and other. Etiquette and yoga allows us to form a community which makes us feel happier.
So don’t miss out on the small joys of life. Stop. Look. Listen. And reciprocate kindness, gratitude. Thank you for making the extra effort and coming to Spira to practice yoga, your energy does add to the happiness of the community.
Thank you for your time, and thank you for being who you are…