By Kaitlyn Bailey

Arms straight, upper back full, heart forward, belly long, knees bent. These are some of the cues that run through my head as I studiously scan and adjust my body. “Crouching cat is the new downward dog”, exclaims the teacher. I lower my knees onto my yoga mat to observe my classmates. Some have taken the embodiment of a cat quite literally, stalking back and forth and slowly bending and straightening their legs as if preparing to pounce. I even think I hear the faint whisper of a purr but I can’t be sure because the music quickly drowns it out. As I lift my knees and return to the cat-like posture I try to convince myself that the purring was just a figment of my imagination. But then I hear it again: a gentle purring that is barely audible over Rod Stewart, the hallmark of a happy cat.

I’ve read a vast range of claims about the benefits that yoga can provide, everything from improving flexibility to ridding your body of toxins. I recently decided it was time to delve deeper into one of these claims: can yoga make you happier? Or, more specifically, can being more mindful, a skill commonly taught in yoga classes, lead to a happier life?

What is mindfulness? A quick Google Image search retrieves a collection of photos of people sitting cross-legged on the beach but in reality mindfulness doesn’t require lululemon pants and can be practiced nearly anywhere. Mindfulness is most commonly defined as bringing one’s attention and awareness to what is taking place in the present. It may be easier to understand by looking at what it is not. The following statements are from a common questionnaire used to measure mindfulness, called the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale1, and they describe behaviours that would not be considered mindful. I break or spill things because of carelessness, not paying attention, or thinking of something else. I forget a person’s name almost as soon as I’ve been told it for the first time. I drive places on ‘automatic pilot’ and then wonder why I went there. If this sounds like you then you are not alone. With the recent emergence of smartphones and the ability to be constantly connected to the Internet there are an increasing number of distractions for our mind and it is even more difficult to stay focused on the present. So is it worth the effort? Can being more mindful really lead to a happier life?

Researchers from Harvard University explored this question by studying ‘mind wandering’ (which is the opposite of mindfulness) and how it relates to happiness2. They contacted people from all over the world at random times during the day through an app on their cellphones. Each time a person was contacted he or she was asked the following three questions: 1) How are you feeling right now? 2) What are you doing right now? 3) Are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing? The data showed that people were generally happier when their minds were focused on what they were doing than when they were not. Even more interesting, whether or not people were thinking about the present played a more important role in predicting their happiness than what activity they were doing. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you are doing an activity you enjoy, such as making love, or one you dislike, such as commuting to work, you will be happier, or at least as happy, if you’re thinking about the present moment. The grim news was that people reported focusing on the present only 46.9% of the time. So even though being more mindful may make us happier, it only accounts for about half of our time.

Crouching cat along with the other creatively named poses in Bowspring yoga helped teach me how to stay more mindful. During class, when I have to direct my attention and awareness to the subtle positioning of my body in each pose, my mind is forced to focus on the present. For nearly the entirety of the class I stop dreaming about what I’m going to eat for dinner or wondering how Trump has become a serious contender in the presidential election. For those 60-minutes my mind is right there on my mat alongside my body. Over time I have even found that my ability to stay mindful has expanded into areas of my life outside of yoga class. As I walk down Superior Street I notice and admire my neighbours’ flower gardens instead of checking emails on my phone. I recently ate a meal that I must have cooked at least one hundred times before, yet this time I could taste and differentiate between every flavor. I imagine my experience with mindfulness is analogous to how Peter Parker felt after a spider bit him. I have newly discovered ‘spidey senses’. And perhaps most importantly, after an hour of Bowspring yoga I feel happier, so happy that I am sometimes overcome with a desire to purr.


1. Brown & Ryan, 2003. The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(4), 822-848.

2. Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330, 932.

Kaitlyn Bailey has an MSc in Health Psychology and she recently relocated to Victoria where she has been enjoying exploring all the nooks and crannies of the city.