Rewiring your Brain – Choosing Happiness

Many of us suffer great trauma in our lives. When we suffer greatly in our childhood and youth we are faced with a habit, of chaos & trauma. As a child I was usually alone, since I suffered intense neglect. Neglect means there was no adult around to watch over me and keep me safe. That experience lead to profound sexual abuse including incest and rape by the age of 8 years old. I suffered greatly from emotional, mental, and physical abuse as well. These traumas made a mark on my mind, they left me with a habit of suffering. Many of us have different levels of this, some of us suffer greatly, but most of us have some habit of suffering.

Even though the traumas that we suffered were many years in our past we still hold onto them, they still haunt us. Many of us suffer with PTSD which can easily lead to depression. In suffering we learn that if we focus on the horrifying things in our past we are faced with a pretty dismal outlook. If we are to take a different perspective we must first understand that it is a choice. In my personal experience I have stepped back, realized I am no longer in those unsafe situations and then reassured myself that I am safe. Once I realized that these old feelings of suffering and so forth are from my past I am very ready to let them go. I desire good health, happiness, & peace for myself and pray to be surrounded by love. Most of us want this for ourselves.

When your in a pattern and habit of suffering though, you can find yourself finding ways to be unhappy. Choosing to see the stuff in life that sucks, its not hard, just read the news. We can find more suffering, which has become a habit from our trauma filled past, by focusing on our past, seeing only the horrible news, and losing all hope for the future. This behavior creates more suffering for ourselves and many of us find that we are comfortable here. Have you ever felt yourself want to laugh when your upset and crying? That resistance to laughter is exactly what I am referring to in this article.

In my experience, when I realized my attachment to sadness I was horrified at myself. How could I continue to keep myself from happiness, this is stupid! I want to be happy why do I keep myself suffering. Simply, I discovered it was a habit. I learned it from my family members and even my lovers. I had to find a way out of this habit since it served no greater good in the now fairly safe world I live in today. In the past it served as a defense from constant disappointment, preparing me for the worst situation. This defense served me well when my life was full of trauma but now I had grown up, changed my environment, and was focusing on a healthy mind, body, and soul. Although my world is not perfect I no longer live in conditions that I am a helpless child or confused teenager. I have control over who is in my life, how I spend my days, and who has sexual contact with me. Today I am safe. Its time to shed this old habit of suffering, I have zero desire to suffer anymore. I have suffered enough! I am done!

Letting this go proved to be harder than I thought. This habit lingered in my mind like pre programming from my childhood. No surprise that I ended up this way but how do we reverse it? Psychiatrists have been trying to medicate me since medications became the main form of treatment for behavior like this. As if treating me for the depression I suffer from is going to retrain my brain to choose happiness. I understand their urgency and fear to rectify my depression as I suffered from suicidal thoughts. I spent my entire youth as a cutter and drug user. I understand the need for medication in these extreme cases but I don’t want to be medicated. My medicine is Yoga. As I defy modern day medicine and rewire my brain I offer those of you that also have this habit of suffering,  an alternative “medicine”.

I want to include that I also discovered that artificial flavors, preservatives, alcohol and sugar easily triggered my depression. This became more apparent as my happiness practice continued to go deeper and deeper. I found that certain foods in my diet greatly increased my suffering and made it harder for me to achieve happiness. Although I don’t have a perfect diet, extremes are not necessary, I do try to keep these 4 things out of my daily diet. I now suspect that some forms of wheat could be addictive and possibly also contributing to my depression. If your suffering from depression regularly just be aware if these things are in your daily diet.

My first step was to find a visual piece for happiness. I found this necessary for happiness because of the simple fact that smiles are contagious. At the time my home life wasn’t exactly filled with happy people, in fact most of them suffered from depression. I was gifted a “Happy Buddha” after expressing my desire for one. I deeply appreciated the gift and began to use it almost immediately. I created a daily practice of smiling back at the Buddha, whom was happy to always smile at me. I would place my prayer beads on him every night before I went to sleep, kiss him good night, and go to sleep with the best smile I could summon. Then each morning when I rose I would remove the beads, kiss him, and smile back. I would try to wear the beads all day in remembrance of the importance of a smile. Just the act of smiling has beneficiary effects on the brain and its contagious! By healing ourselves, we heal others in the same turn.

Then I took my smiling to the mat. Even after this daily practice for weeks and weeks I still found myself entering depression. One of my most sensitive times is the week before I experience menstruation. I do believe that male bodied people and even trans men on synthetic hormones still experience a fluctuation in hormones and therefore mood. There are so many triggers its hard to to say just one thing that gets us there. Even in the best daily practice we can fall off the happy wagon! When I find myself lost or seeking comfort I find my yoga mat. I have found that I can re-wire my brain in order to reach my emotional goals. I want to overcome this habit of suffering and choose happiness, instead. So as I breathe and go from pose to pose I focus on smiling. Even if it’s fake or I am uncomfortable I push through and smile anyway. Sometimes I have to cry or scream before I can smile, but by the end of my practice I am smiling. When I am done crying and screaming I then step in and ask myself, “Well now that we have honored all that is terrible by crying our eyes out…what can I smile about?” When I am honest with myself I can find reasons to smile. Even if its “Well I am no longer living in unsafe conditions and I can take care of myself.”

In my regular practice I work to prevent these “falling off the wagon” episodes. I use “Happy Baby” in my daily practice and I focus on the most important part, smiling! I also add smiling to all of my rest poses such as “Mountain Pose” – “Child’s Pose” – “Downward Dog” “Lotus” and “Corpse”. I simply rest in these poses and try to remember to smile as I regulate my breathe. Often, I regulate my breathe and smile simultaneously. I also smile after I fall out of a balance pose or don’t follow my plan in yoga. As if I am finding humility in my practice. Laughing at ourselves when we fall out of “Tree Pose” can really help us learn to choose happiness. When I am in my flow I try to smile through it, this is not a chore to do yoga, this is my medicine. This medicine feels good and I am grateful for the tool. Happiness easily sets in when these types of conditions are set up. Even when life isn’t easy, even when we fail, even when life sucks – We SMILE and therefore choose Happiness as a result.

Happiness has brought me great strength to overcome big things. It has seen me through some very hard times and in that I am grateful. I have learned a lot about smiling and happiness over the years that I been practicing this way. It has greatly improved my overall health, my stress levels, my relationships, my mental health, and it even increased my connection to the divine. The practice of smiling in yoga regardless of what pose I am in, fell out of, struggled to achieve, or worked hard to flow in and out of has rewired my brain. Although I am not perfect, my habit of suffering has been greatly reduced, instead I have a habit of being happy. So even in the hustle and bustle of my life when I forget my daily practice of happiness I no longer slip into depression as easily as I did when I first started. Today, I recognize when the old habit of suffering creeps up. I also realize that the regular creeping up of suffering is the human condition talked about by many buddhist monks and spiritualists. I smile because I have rewired my brain by simply smiling through my yoga practice and creating a daily habit of awareness. I no longer allow any of the perpetrators of my past to create more suffering for me today, they have no rights to me. They never did and never will. I am grateful to be responsible for my own choices.

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