As I approached my mid-40s I noticed things were shifting and not for the better for myself, my yoga teacher friends, and the gurus themselves. Injuries were happening more often, scandals were unfolding, and fat was accumulating. A yoga teacher friend, Samantha Brown, had discovered tremendous transformation for herself and for her clients practicing The Happy Body (THB). She invited me to a workshop she hosted to introduce Jerzy, Aniela and The Happy Body to her community of yoga teachers and friends. At the time I was full of injuries and 20lbs too heavy.
Within 6 months of practicing The Happy Body under Jerzy and Aniela’s direction I transformed my body. And the last 18 months I’ve been working on the hardest piece of all -- healing my mind. In the process of practicing The Happy Body program while simultaneously teaching and practicing yoga, I have discovered how profoundly similar they are at the root both in purpose and in design. But I also discovered how profoundly different they are in practice and integration.
Vanity and Pain
Initially what motivates the majority of people today to enter the path of yoga or The Happy Body is identical: vanity and/or pain. For most, the day of reckoning arrives sometime in early to mid-40s. We start to expand, get cottage cheese legs, donuts around the waist, and chicken cutlets for tri-ceps, and we develop chronic pain from injuries and unhealthy lifestyle habits. Often as a last resort people arrive at the door of a yoga studio or THB with a desire for a new pain free body that looks good in a bathing suit. Preferably in 60 days!
“Junk body: junk mind”
All masters know what brings people in the door initially is not what is really broken. A broken body is just a broken mind, and biology cannot be rushed. Both Jerzy & Aniela and the ancient yogis from India would say,” just get on your mat every day and the rest will take care of itself.”. Start with the body, consistently strengthen, stretch, balance and slowly but surely the mind will do the same. The ultimate purpose of the practice is our spiritual development, obtaining mastery and connection with our inner and outer life.
“Your body, the master’s mind”
Until the mind is strong and healthy it needs the master’s direction. I have heard this echoed over the years both from yoga masters as well as Jerzy & Aniela. Initially the mind is weak, has too many bad habits, and its fatalist perspective is running the show. “I’m just getting old, it’s genetics, I’m too busy, I’ll start tomorrow, I’ll sleep in, one day doesn’t matter.” Instead, you follow the master’s direction, precisely, without variation. Over time your body and mind will heal, get strong, flexible and obtain mastery. You will become your own master, a witness to your choices, desires and a co-creator of a happy balanced life.
Two different trees emerge from the same roots
Yoga, the tree of entertainment
This is where modern day pop culture yoga and The Happy Body diverge. Yoga has been ripped away from its ancient roots. Now what you see in yoga practice is entertainment, tailored to meet modern day trends and disconnected lifestyles. In fact, it’s hard to even find a 90-minute yoga class these days. Instead you have primarily 60 minute classes and every month it seems a new style of yoga appears: yoga and a disco ball, yoga in a salt cave, even naked yoga.
Withered leaves-yoga students
Like most yoga practitioners for 2 decades I found myself leaving my intentions and spiritual journey on the mat, in savasana, at the end of class. I would find myself praying for world peace in class but not practicing peace in my own life. I would grab my muffin and latte after class and drive like a bat out of hell, late for life, running yellow lights and honking at people walking too slowly in crosswalks. Classes were entertaining, music, mirrors, heat, aromatherapy, spiritual messages and my mind would enjoy the experience. But it came at a price. My mind wasn’t strong and the focus was not on my internal experience, and thus my body got weaker and more broken. The end result, years of overstretched hamstrings, chronic neck, SI & piriformis pain, ACL & meniscus surgery, digestive troubles and chubby legs. I was totally out of alignment, physically, mentally, emotionally -- a broken body and a broken mind.
Broken branches-yoga teachers
Modern day yoga practices also reflect the consciousness and lifestyle of the pop culture yoga “gurus”. I recall one day noticing that many of the current yoga gurus were fat or emaciated and struggling with a broken mind, i.e. Bikram Choudhury, John Friend, Kausthub Desikachar, Dechen Thurman. Not surprising many yoga students were getting fat or emaciated, were getting injured in classes, and were struggling with a broken mind: addictions, insomnia, anxiety, depression. The very things that initially brought them in the door.
I recall 15 years ago when I had just started teaching yoga, a student said, “why should I practice yoga if I will end up with a body like yours?”. I felt exposed and full of shame but realized it just reflected where both of us were on the journey. I did cleanses regularly, including a 21-day Master Cleanse, a month of panchakarma in India, followed a raw vegan diet, 3 hours of daily meditation, and practiced yoga 5 times a week. Yet, I didn’t have all the tools I needed to obtain and live with a happy balanced body and mind, let alone mentor or teach others.
Fifteen years later, the trend continues. Teacher trainings primarily focus on asanas, meditation, breathing, spiritual theory and sequencing a class. Almost none of the modern day yoga gurus understand, integrate or have mastery around the diet and lifestyle piece. Mindfully nourishing the tree, i.e., the body and the mind, throughout the day is simply not part of the curriculum.
The Happy Body, the tree of enlightenment
Mentoring under a true modern day master, integrating nutrition, exercise, relaxation and a mindful lifestyle are they key components in The Happy Body practice and the missing pieces in today’s yoga practice.
The master gardeners
Unlike current pop culture yoga gurus, Jerzy and Aniela are true masters. They practice what they preach 24 hours a day. Their bodies and minds are strong, flexible and powerful. Jerzy and Aniela have spent their lives designing a precise system for a fully integrated practice that heals both mind and body every day. You can’t do asanas, lift weights or meditate 24 hours a day but you do eat all day long, and you do need to move with intention, ease and comfort. It involves the same things the ancient yogis understood must be practiced correctly on a daily basis for spiritual awakening and conscious living: breath, movement, meditation, diet and rest.
A nourished tree
The Happy Body diet is made up of three parts. The first is the food you choose to eat. Their diet is primarily made up of anti-inflammatory foods along with a low use of meats, oils and grains. The second is the rhythm of eating, every 3 hours over a 12-hour period. Third is a precise caloric intake for each meal based on your ideal body weight. You don’t need to get neurotic counting calories, hire a chef, feel deprived of foods you love, or be oppressed in the kitchen. Rather this practice simply teaches you the key is simple, fresh, delicious, anti-inflammatory meals eaten at the right time and with the correct portions. The ancient yogis knew that in order for the mind to transcend, the body’s diet and digestion needs to be light, balanced and efficient.
A mindful tree
A lifestyle of meditation. Every action and non-action is meditation practice. It starts with the mindful weightlifting. 18 weight lifting exercises practiced in a specific sequence incorporating the breath and training the mind to keep track of repetitions and stay in the moment. A five-minute meditation at the end of weightlifting with music and aromatherapy.
Next is food and watching the mind, resisting unhealthy habits, waiting 3 hours, eating just enough and foods that heal is a discipline and a journey. A smooth easy lifestyle is a key value for both the ancient yogis and The Happy Body. Living life with ease, nourishing the mind with poetry, scriptures, and enlightened text, listening to music that brings tranquility, getting proper amounts of rest, taking gentle walks, breathing clean air, moving with grace. The meditation is just as important as the weightlifting and the daily diet.
Sure anyone can follow The Happy Body methodology for 6 months and look better in the mirror, but the ability to sustain the change happens when there is mastery in the mind and execution in the correct and balanced choices you make every day about food, exercise, meditation, and rest.
An unbounded tree
On this journey towards mastery with The Happy Body, I’m now doing yoga poses with strength and flexibility I didn’t have 20 years ago. I’m now able to teach and practice yoga without seeing the chiropractor 3 times a month. Attending yoga classes for pure joy and spiritual connection. My yoga students now ask me, “what is your secret?”
I’ve found that The Happy Body has complemented all the other activities I enjoy by strengthening me and nourishing me. Just this past year I’ve started skiing again for the first time in almost 20 years. I’m regularly outside running, jumping, biking, wrestling and playing with my 8-year-old twins. No injuries, pain free and the same body weight I had when I was 18 years old. I’m healthier now at 45 then I was at 22 when I was doing triathlons. My driving on the other hand is still a work in progress, we are always a work in progress.
Here is my mantra these days integrating both my yoga and Happy Body world: Sthira Sukham Asanam, Patanjali sutra 2.46, “Resolutely abide in a good space-steady sweet ease one day at a time.” The Happy Body for life.