Sit with your spine erect, in a chair or anywhere you feel comfortable. Close your eyes, and follow your breath naturally from the base of the spine to the space between your eyebrows. Count mentally to eight, hold for just two counts, then exhale for eight.
After years of searching, here’s what I have learned so far: Happiness is a choice. It is the sum of every decision, big and small, you have ever made in your life until this moment. Change your mind, they say, and you change your life.
So the questions is: How do you change your mind?
A few weeks ago, I met Yiannis Mukta Om. The yoga master from Greece was in Singapore to lead a series of workshops at The Yoga School that focus on fundamental techniques such as Pranayama breathing, and physical, emotional, mental and spiritual cleansing methods to help us realise the true self. For about half an hour before class, we chatted. Of course I wanted to ask him about what he thought of happiness and the pursuit of it.
There was something he said which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. “According to yoga,” he began — and I could not be less prepared for the next few words that would change my mind forever — “it is believed that we come to life with a set amount of breaths.”
Basically, if you allow negative emotions to rule your life, if you are constantly stressed out, your breath speeds up. Put bluntly, yes, negativity can kill you.
There’s something to slowing down, enjoying the present moment — turn inwards, look deeper, feel how you feel, and ask yourself: What, truly, makes you happy? And just breathe. Start with this exercise — it takes two minutes. And that is two minutes closer to a deeper, more sustainable kind of happiness.
When did you discover yoga? How has it changed your life?
Yiannis: I discovered yoga in my late 20s. In my first yoga class, I felt very different sensations in my body as well as mentally than any other practices I had done so far at that point of my life. As I continued to practise yoga, my life changed. My patience improved; my mind became calmer and stiller; my concentration and awareness improved, as did my compassion towards other beings. All these inner changes continue to impact me and my life in a very positive way.
Who would you say yoga is for?
Yiannis: Yoga is for all. For all ages. Everyone can practise yoga no matter where they come from. Everyone can receive the benefits of yoga, and that’s precisely the beauty of it.
So, I attended your “Meditation & Inner Practices” class. It feels really good and calm afterwards because of the breathing exercises. Breathing is such a natural and necessary part of living, and yet we get so busy being busy that sometimes we forget to breathe. It’s not uncommon for people to say, “I don’t even have time to breathe”. Can you tell me how breathing right can change the way we live?Yiannis: Yes, this is a very good question. According to yoga, it is believed that we come to life with a set amount of breaths. If we live our lives with a lot of negative influences, such as anger, stress, hate, jealousy and other negative emotions, they start to speed up the breath of a person, and it takes a toll on her health. It is very important for us to learn to breathe correctly as well as to direct our attention to our breath.
The fourth step of yoga is called pranayama (breathing exercises). If you have a qualified teacher with experience in pranayama, they will be able to guide you through your breathing.
When you do regular breathing exercises, it will positively affect your nervous system and
My patience improved; my mind became calmer and stiller; my concentration and awareness improved, as did my compassion towards other beings.
steady the heart. As a result of that, you will automatically start to breathe slower. This will fundamentally affect your mind — you will experience calmness and serenity, and it will recharge your energy.
I highly recommend my students to keep up with the breathing exercises because they will be better able to copy with the challenges that life brings.
What is an easy breathing exercise everyone can do to alleviate stress?
Yiannis: An easy breathing exercise is the calming breathing exercise. Anyone can do this. You can do it at home and even while commuting on the bus or the train to work.
- Sit with your spine erect, in a chair or anywhere you feel comfortable, close your eyes, and follow your breath naturally from the base of the spine to the space between your eyebrows.
- Count mentally to eight, hold for just two counts, then exhale for eight.
It’s very simple. After a few minutes, you’ll notice the mind getting calmer. You can start doing the exercise for two to three minutes, and slowly build up to 10 minutes.
The ability to imagine is a very powerful tool to attract positivity and create a fulfilled life. That is what I think.
Can you shed some light on happiness? What is your idea of happiness? How can we achieve it?
Yiannis: Of course, all beings want to be happy. All of us are looking for happiness, and all of us experience happiness. Some of us find it in material things, others feel happy because they like where they live, or how they look, or how much money they have, or possessions and friends they have, and so on and so forth.
All of this is not wrong, but as we move on with our lives, we can see clearly that this type of happiness does not last. It is not permanent. Gradually, as we start questioning things in our life, we turn our attention inwards and begin to reflect on the happiness that we experience in the present moment, knowing that this happiness is fleeting and impermanent. By questioning and reflecting, the mind starts going deeper into the search of eternal happiness. This happiness does not depend on any external circumstances. When you see that,
your mind begins to reflect on how to find eternal happiness. So the journey begins: With constant attention, the faith of the (yoga) student and the guidance of her teacher, the student will eventually find the answers and experience eternal happiness. I believe this is why we are here, to get to know and experience that. No one can truly explain that because the words do not exist. May all beings realise that. This is the final step in yoga.
We have every intention of growing and living our best and most fulfilled life. Can you tell us what your Top 3 rules are for us to get there?
Yiannis: Firstly, and most importantly, to practise compassion. This is very important, and my master put a lot of emphasis on this. Over the course of time, I got to see how the practice of compassion changes someone’s life and help her to feel fulfilled, as well to truly achieve success in life and in her desires.
Secondly, practise patience. It is very important to learn to wait and not react to things.
Thirdly, cultivate imagination. The ability to imagine is a very powerful tool to attract positivity and create a fulfilled life. That is what I think.
PHOTOGRAPHY // KARMAN TSE
LOCATION // THE YOGA SCHOOL