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An Interview With Sara Avant Stover

by Staff

Sara Avant Stover, founder of the Way of the Happy Woman™, pioneered yoga teaching in Thailand and is a Yoga Alliance teacher trainer at the 500-hour level. She travels the world leading women’s workshops and lives in Boulder, Colorado. Visit her online at http://www.thewayofthehappywoman.com.

What is The Way of the Happy Woman?

The Way of the Happy Woman is an ancient way of living in harmony with oneself and one’s surrounding as a feminine being in the modern world. This requires simplifying, slowing down, aligning with the rhythms and cycles of nature, and living from the inside out through the self-care practices of seasonal yoga, meditation, lifestyle, and nutrition. The Way negates the need to fix or perfect oneself and instead embraces radical acceptance and self-love. It leads women home to their essential natures—radiant, indestructible happiness.

A lot of people are seeking, as well as talking and writing about, happiness. How do you fit into this? How do you define happiness?

As a little girl, I remember blowing out my birthday candles every year. My one wish was always, “To be happy.” This longing is so universal, so intrinsic to the human experience; for happiness is our natural state. We all long to return to our essence, to who we truly are. Since women are natural nurturers, we’re so accustomed to making others happy. Plus, many of us grow up thinking that how we look, how much we weigh, who we marry, or how much money we make will make us happy. In pursuit of this, we’re always striving to be better, younger, thinner, more beautiful. All of this striving only brings us more suffering. The happiness I’m talking about is a stripping away of the belief that someone or something can make us happy. We’re the only ones who can do that. And doing so is a daily act, a practice that we must devote ourselves to regularly. Women need to know that we deserve to be happy; and we deserve to make that a priority in our lives. It comes in simple, ordinary ways, through how we show up for life each moment of each day. There’s nothing magical or mysterious about it. Happiness is then very attainable, ordinary, and tangible.

You mention rhythms and cycles, what do they have to do with happiness?

In modern society we’ve become so estranged from nature. Those of us who live in cities can go for months without stepping foot in a forest or breathing fresh air. Because of electricity our sleeping and waking cycles are no longer dependent upon the rising and setting of the sun; and our menstrual cycles no longer mirror the waxing and waning of the moon. However, we are creatures of nature. And, for women, this link is especially potent. As the centers of our families and communities, we’re the ones who preserve the sacred balance of all things. Our bodies, emotions, and spirits are tremendously sensitive to the rhythms of life. But we’ve forgotten this; and so we suffer. We can’t sleep, get cancer, become infertile, develop uterine fibroids and cysts, and more. Reclaiming nature’s rhythms, as they live in our own bodies and hearts, is what can heal us. They’re what can heal the world at large, too. It’s not sustainable to go full throttle day after day. We need cycles of blooming, maturation, decay, death, and rebirth. We need the full circle of life for true happiness to take root within us. Light is the other side of dark. Birth is the other side of death. And happiness is the other side of sorrow. One can never exist without the other.

You have had quite a personal journey leading up to writing this book. How did The Way of the Happy Woman come about?

As the second oldest of four sisters and a senior at New York City’s all women’s Barnard College, I reached a crisis point in my life in 1999 where I realized I had no idea how to be a woman! I felt like I had no map and no role models. This plight culminated in my diagnosis of the early stages of cervical cancer. My wake up call summoned me to truly face myself—my unfelt and unexpressed emotions, my eating disorders, my menstrual irregularities, and my low self-esteem. Shortly after that I moved to Thailand for a job. There, I embraced the tools and lifestyle I needed to heal: yoga, Buddhist meditation, detoxification programs, and traditional Chinese Medicine. I also found women teachers and mentors that I could look up to and learn from. Slowly, my health improved, as did my happiness. I was finally becoming the woman I had always wanted to be. Then, as I began teaching yoga around the world, I started meeting other women who were suffering in the same ways that I had; and I had the wisdom and resources to help them. That’s how The Way of the Happy Woman began. This book is now the culmination of everything I have learned and taught to countless women around the world over the past 12 years.

All of this sounds really interesting, but then, as you know, women today are really busy with families, careers, and friendships. Not everyone can move to Thailand! You outline a map for one year of a woman’s life. How can women make time for this in their already full lives?

I don’t believe in sugar coating anything. This path is simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! First, a women need to find the courage, the guts, to face themselves. To really see and feel the parts of themselves that they’ve turned away from. They need to call these lost parts of themselves home. Only when a woman travels alone into the darkness of her own soul can she step back out into the light, empowered and sovereign over her own life. So, first, a woman needs to want to make this journey. She needs to believe she is worthy of being happy and of being the woman she’s always wanted to be. Then, once she knows it’s a priority, there’s always time. For some women this means waking up 10 minutes early to meditate before the kids wake up. For others it means watching 1 hour less of TV each day or powering down the computer 30 minutes earlier than usual to exercise, take a yoga class, cook a beautiful meal, or write in her journal. Look for ways that you spend your time doing things that lead you away from yourself. Cut those things out and replace them with things that lead you to yourself. It’s that simple. But, again, simple doesn’t mean to be easy. A woman needs to be a warrior of her own happiness to do this daily. It’s a discipline.

What are the essential ingredients that women need to start to live with more happiness?

Most important are silence and solitude. Every woman needs pockets of these daily. Also mindfulness. This gets us to pay attention to what’s happening in each moment. It wakes us up to our lives and gets us out of our overly busy minds. You can combine both of these in a minimum of 10 minutes of meditation everyday; and by meditation I mean sitting quietly with your eyes closed and feeling the rising and falling of your breath in your belly. We also need sleep. If we’re not sleeping well or enough, everything starts to fall apart. About 8-9 hours is what we really need to thrive. We also need beauty and pleasure—adorning ourselves in nice clothes and jewelry, buying ourselves flowers, dancing, listening to music, making art, and appreciating what is exquisite around us. If a woman can make sure to have these things each day, she will dramatically improve her happiness.

You combine a lot of different elements in the book—the seasons, yoga, meditation, and recipes. Why do you combine all of these? What’s the impact?

As I mentioned earlier, the Way is about living from the inside out. We need tools and practices to connect us with our inner worlds, to bring our inner lives out and our outer lives in. So the yoga and meditation connect us inwardly. We experience ourselves as more than our thoughts and our outer roles and activities. We learn to trust our bodies and our intuition. Then we need nurturing foods to give our bodies the sustenance they need to heal and grow. All of these things, when adapted to the seasons, connect us to the changing rhythms of earth, and of our own hearts and lives. When we do this, we feel connected to ourselves and to all of life. We become more trusting of change and steered from an inner compass (rather than the compass of what others demand of us).

Why do you address this book specifically to women? Can men learn from this, too?

Men can certainly benefit from this, and I encourage them to read the book, too! I choose to address women specifically because I know women are the hubs of their families and communities. We’re the ancient cook fire. We put the sustenance on the stove and gather others around to feast on it--whether that’s with food or with information. When we change and heal ourselves, we can’t help but share that with the people we love. We keep paying it forward. That’s how real change happens. And there’s nothing more inspiring and compelling than a woman who’s radiant, alive, and at home in herself. She’s infectious!

What do you feel are the biggest challenges women today are facing and what are the effects of those?

Without a doubt, stress is number one. Stress from working too much and resting too little. Stress from toxicity in our air, food, and water; and stress from denying our emotions, or at the other end of the spectrum, acting out from them unskillfully. All of these things weaken our connection to our spirits. They flood our bodies with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that leach precious vitality reserves from our cells that leave us depleted, run down, and, eventually, sick. We need to be diligent about both eliminating stress from our lives as much as possible and finding new ways to cope with the stressors that can’t be avoided.

What do modern women absolutely need to know to stay healthy and happy?

You deserve to be happy beyond your wildest dreams. And you’re the only one who can do that for yourself—not a knight in shining armor, a winning lottery ticket, or a magic pill. You have to slow down, simplify, do less, and let your guard down. You have to ask for and receive support. You have to say no more in order to say yes to yourself. It’s in the quiet, ordinary moments that you’ll truly meet yourself. It’s in weathering the seasons of your life with dignity and grace that you’ll find your true power as a woman in the world. Making yourself happy is not selfish, it’s the most altruistic act you could ever perform.


May 2011 • • Paperback & Ebooks • B/W w/ illustrations - 320 pages

Price: $15.95 • ISBN 978-1-57731-982-5

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