The Pleasure Principal
Life is full of suffering. You need to go through pain to find somewhere new. These are commonly expressed ideas. I was talking to someone about yoga about emotional release in class. It made me question myself as this is not something I am particularly interested in with yoga. It can be profoundly helpful, but I wondered to myself why I didn’t explore this dynamic more through yoga. Emotional release does happen, suddenly you might find sadness in your body, or grief or anger. Although disconcerting if you’ve not experienced it before, this can be helpful and healing. In my own practice I explore connections between the physical and the emotional, but I explore them as they arise. I have no intention to find emotional release, but if it comes so be it. I also never teach with the intention of finding emotional vulnerability or release. Why? Because I think there is something much more important, and strangely enough that is pleasure. To all of you budding Buddhists out there you can start worrying now. It is true attachment to pleasure can be extremely dangerous, but I’m not talking about attaching to it. I am talking about being curious to feelings of pleasure, comfort, joy – and to following them rather than your need for perfection, hard work or discomfort to valid the experience.
So why do I think this is so important in yoga?
I’m a firm believer that we spend too much time denying our needs and expecting pain. I hear it in people’s word so often, my own too. You go to an exercise class, to get fit and you expect discomfort. Indeed often people define a ‘good’ class by how uncomfortable and locked up they are the next day. We run though painful knees as at endorphin level the knee pain is worth it. We straddle difficult relationships, we juggle priorities, we grind though ailments. We sit through mediocre social interactions as its better than being alone. I love a job ticked off a list – there’s a buzz of pleasure, but it’s after the ‘head down’ work is done.
When we take this energy into yoga class. In yoga when we push too far, we compete with others, ourselves. Ultimately we compete with our body over our soul. In accepting pain or discomfort whilst doing yoga we sperate ourselves, we break ourselves into layers. “Its great for my abs”, “Im getting closer to full lotus”, “I can feel the burn and it’s great”. These are all disconnected layers of experience. This is not yoga. This might be good exercise, it might be enjoyable and valid as an exercise…. but at a profound level it’s not be yoga as there is no union.
If you do not unite with yourself you’re not doing yoga. Find pleasure and bliss in simplicity. It doesn’t need to be fancy, you don’t have to look great doing it, but I’m suggesting that you need to love it. It might open your heart, calm your mind, release your muscles. There are so many layers that yoga can work on, from the superficial like a nice calf stretch to a profound connection with a timeless universe. The point is that both, done well, feel brilliant. Whether it’s a whole body joy or just a good stretch – if you do it in harmony with yourself there will be an inevitable sense of wellbeing, it’s inescapable. There will be harmony between your mind and body.
If you meditate stoically every day and feel worse for it, don’t do it. If you’re doing the most graceful salute to the sun and could be on the cover of a magazine, but your heart stays low – don’t do it. If you have a lovely teacher but you feel dull, move on. Maybe worse if you come out high, whooshy, zany – beware. This is pleasure, yes, but it’s also addiction, it’s a high like any other. Don’t get high doing yoga. Get low. Get steady. Get real.
The pleasure I’m talking about is deep, slow moving, gently expansive, nurturing. It’s not going to burn you with joy, set your soul on fire, nor fill you with the eternal light of transcendence for ever more. You won’t come out walking on clouds. If that comes, so be it, but don’t follow it. It’s a quiet, very real, very visceral pleasure where you come into your body, not leave it.
The only way to come into your body is to become friends. To become friends you need to play, enjoy and be kind. I love to play at the edges of what I can do. I love the fun of welcoming the ‘oops’. In yoga that’s dancer pose where I’m just a touch too far out. In my spare time that might be me playing tennis with my dad and repeatedly missing the ball. When you are settled enough in yourself there are few things as fun as embracing the incompetent within. When you find your edges, with kindness and play, failing is more fun than ‘succeeding’. It’s more fun as you’re growing, not staying static, not held.
I saw a recent post from Marc Aquaviva and was delighted I’m not the only yoga teacher banging on about pleasure:
‘The answer is still to practice but looking for an absence of conflict in the practice – ie. You must look for the PLEASURE’.
You have every right to do whatever you want with your body. You can push through, sculpt, tone, tweak and trim. You can be hard on yourself and ask for more. You can squeeze yourself into many shapes. You redefine your physical form and become someone else.
When I teach yoga I often notice how differently instructions sit with different people. So I’m aware using joy and pleasure as a guide to yoga practice might feel too much. That’s Ok. If you read this and think – no way! Then like everything else that is not for you: let it go. Dance to your own drum.
You can also choose to follow your inner joy. You can find a stream of wellbeing and follow it. You can meet your body where it is today. You can accept your foibles, your broken bits, weird bits as well as your ‘hell yes’ bits. You can learn to let go of judging those very bits and instead go with the inside feeling. By gradually going into how you feel when doing yoga you can learn to be more. Allow yourself to feel real, be real and be you. All of this comes from practicing yoga with a curious interest in feeling good. Feeling pleasure. This is my pleasure principle – find pleasure, unite with yourself and do your best inner yoga for this now.
Sometime ago a woman came to class. She waddled in on crutches, late. Her pelvis had been giving her bother and she was laboured and tired. We had been chatting and various women had been explaining their tiredness, exhaustion and discomfort. The woman on crutches edged her way down to sitting obviously in some considerable pain. I thought I could tell from her body. I could read the pain and the incarceration she was feeling, or so I thought. I was very wrong. What was most alive for her was feeling irate that sex, her last saviour, had been taken away from her by bleeding. The rest of the class listened on with a mixture of jealousy, compassion and admiration.
Here’s a bit of her story:
‘So I struggle up the stairs for what may have been the 20th pee of the day. Now not only do I find it was all a trick by my baby and I barely have a few drops of urine but, as I sigh and try to reach my undies, I notice blood. No matter how calm and chill you are there’s a wee streak of fear that fizzles through you when you see this. “Don’t google it – don’t google it”, the mantra plays through my head.
I get through to a midwife and we go over the details of who I am and such like, I can hear her typing everything. She’s asking me lots of questions about ‘my mary’. It’s no longer weird being asked the intricacies of ‘my lady’. The midwife continues trying to get to the root of the problem. By the way, explaining the viscosity of the body is harder to do than one would think. “Have you had sexual intercourse over the last few day?”. Well yes I say. I can hear her typing stop on the phone. For a fleeting moment there’s no sound and I wonder if I might have done some damage I can’t repair – can I get to the hospital tonight if I need to? I haven’t packed a hospital bag yet, shit, can I get it done like right now??
And there’s a wee sigh from midwife. “Oh honey that’s perfectly normal” hallelujah! ‘As long as it’s diluted and not brightly coloured you’ll be fine”.
Good grief. Our third trimester, when we feel massive, bloated and only getting bigger. We have swollen feet and fingers, we’re tired but can’t sleep – then we’re thrown this. Give us a break. If I can manage to get myself into a position comfortable enough to have sex, I wanna have it without worrying about bleeding! Come on man, we’re peeing ourselves a little, and discharge staining our clothes. Why can’t we have this one thing? This simple release???
So what is so important about sex in pregnancy? In pregnancy your body grows and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times. Sometimes you develop so many aches and pains that you get a hint of what it must be like to be old. Sometimes you feel so ‘out of shape’ that you question who you are and what it’s all about. Almost invariably what was private becomes public, what was solely sexual also becomes motherhood.
In pregnancy our bodies are no longer our own. Literally. We house another being in our body as their sole protection and nurturance. We seem to become public property, everyone thinks we can be touched, commented and judged on a whim. ‘You’re only…’, “You’re very big’, and ‘well, let me tell you…..’.
When the woman above came to class I thought she’d share her discomfort and her pain. She was brave and present and shared her passion and her frustration. It’s normal in pregnancy for other women to tell you their birth traumas, not their empowering and powerful births. It’s normal for us to share our troubles and yet to evade our deep joys. It’s normal to go into the staffroom at work and complain about your partner. What fun it is to imagine sharing our deepest passions with the same vigour on a daily basis. And the question is why don’t we? Why don’t we share the utter joy of being alive?
Of course, there’s something precious about our deepest joys. Their privacy can intensify their strength for some. This said, it seems a little out of balance.
I remember another woman, she was so consumed with sexual desire in pregnancy that she was quite beside herself. Her partner was worried he’d hurt the baby and did not want to have sex. In fact he stoically refused. She shamedly admitted she was so desperate, in a half comic way, that she’d considered going down to the docks to see if she could gain some pleasure and release. Her eyes darted as she laughed off her gnawing pain.
Despite all the changes we are still us. We have needs like every other woman. Of course it doesn’t help that female sexuality is often prioritised by giving pleasure. Women, traditionally, are less able to define and enact their sexual needs.
In pregnancy our needs are communicated to our babies, whether that’s your desire for cut grass, sliced ham or Ben & Jerry’s.
Our sexual needs are communicated to our unborn babies as well, and I think of it much like Ben & Jerry’s. If the lady wants ‘Cookie Dough’ the lady should have ‘cookie dough’. What could be better than physical intimacy when we’re not sure who we are and who we are going to become.
I don’t know how you’re feeling in this pregnancy, maybe you are enjoying the space around you and relishing the lack of interference, and maybe you’re not. I invite you to explore how you’re feeling, noticing what you’d like, and how. And I invite you to seek that out.
The Japanese have a lovely saying – in pregnancy look on beautiful things. Find what is beautiful to you, whether that’s hot chocolate and an open fire, sunlight on a wooden floor or some loving. And if they’re not willing I’d suggest finding your own pleasure, not so much via the Docks but a nice vibrator. It may feel counter-intuitive, it may meddle with your logical mind; with your role as a mother and as a lover, with Freudian worries of the babies experience – but I invite you to leave all this behind. Working things out with your mind is not going to transform anything. Follow your body, follow it’s desire – for space or for intimacy – and trust that your experience is real. Allow yourself to feel and to go with that feeling.
Whether you want ‘cookie dough’ or ‘Kamasutra’ is immaterial. What matters is that you cherish yourself enough to find out what you’d really love…. and then to find it one way or another, for both you and your baby.
This is a teaching blog for Twinkl. It’s aimed at teachers and how they can find ways of with challenging behaviour, however those of you with children might also like it.
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