The Pleasure Principal

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.

Sex in Pregnancy

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.

Dealing with Challenging Behaviour and Your Mental Health

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.



Balancing Dealing with Challenging Behaviour and Your Mental Health

Have you noticed that you have good days, not so good days and downright bad days? Have you noticed the fluctuations in your mental health? Have you noticed how the kids misbehave on those bad days? How they seem to want to push your buttons?

You can read the whole article here.


National Wellbeing Statistics: Hope or Doom?

This article is about health and wellbeing in children and is aimed at teachers, so not really yoga, but it might be of interest to those of you who teach, have children or work with children.

National Wellbeing Statistics: Hope or Doom?

Each year the government report statistics on children’s health and wellbeing. Here’s the good news – 75% of our children are happy or very happy. Don’t read any further if you want to stay on that golden high!

The whole article is here.

Me & The Universe

Like the baby below I sometimes feel like I’m bumping into an invisible wall. Sometimes the invisible wall fades away. This video says it completely.

When you’re putting up a shield ask yourself: Is the shield useful? How is it helping? Does it need strengthening? Does it need letting down? If so what’s the worst that can happen if you let it down?

Dog Returns Kisses from Infant Girl

That was so cute 😍😍Credit: JukinVideo

Posted by Trending World on Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Can you do yoga in 5 minutes?

Can Five Minutes, Spent Well, Rejuvenate You and Make You Feel Better?

Here’s a blog I’ve recently written for Twinkl. It’s aimed at teachers but you might also enjoy it and talks you through a quick relaxing chair based practice for the end of the school day.

‘Yoga isn’t going to ‘Cinderella’ away everything you don’t like and give you glass slippers’. Click to read the  whole blog 

I’ve popped a youtube video up of how to do it in practice. It’s a funny thumbnail, but there you go! 5 minutes to change your world, just a little bit.

Wabi-sabi: To be in love

Love has many guises; parental, delectable, tempting, childlike, innocent, forbidden, respectful, free… the list does on. Today I’d like to focus on the love, honour and relish of old and broken things. The Japanese call this wabi-sabi, and when you google it you’ll get delightful photos of graceful, previously expensive and delicious items with arty cracks and antiquated imperfections… but I’m thinking of my trusty old VW Touran. It’s rusty, clunky, dirty with stained seats. It used to be nice, but now it’s tired and old. I know others will look at it with disgust or pity or one up man ship. But I feel love. It’s faithful, steady and I can’t describe how at home and how in love I am with it. It’s the same for our surfboard: it’s tatty, has bits hanging off. It was never ‘good’ in the first place. I feel love. I remember all the waves it’s been with me through, how well it’s served me, how much joy we’ve shared.

So how does this relate to yoga? We are all broken, we have stories of joy, tears, pain and journeys. Sometimes we come to yoga and feel not good enough, not this enough, not that enough. Sometimes we beat ourselves up with the words in our heads.

To some, I am old, broken, with wrinkles, age spots, dodgy knee, elbow, hips. My lower back goes out and I’m nearly 50. In some ways I’m broken, but am I also absolutely grand. Put me on a yoga mat, a beginners surfboard or dancing to music I love and inside I’m ageless. Sometimes we focus on our loves, children and friends to complete us, and yet our first love is within. This first love in yoga is to listen to your needs, to hear your body’s language and desires. Some days it will tell you it fancies chocolate, other days it will tell you tales of such woe and suffering. It might tell you you’ve been ignoring it for years. It might tell you no matter what your head says it knows better. It may tell you to lighten up. Whatever it tells you, your job is to listen. Through yoga, you learn how to be, and how that can defy the expected or described. I am my own VW Touran. One day my Touran will die, my surfboard will die and as will my body. Things end, other things start and in between we learn to fall in love.

My challenge to you is to go round your home and possessions and find something showing signs of wear which you adore. Whether it’s a treasured childhood toy, a useful implement or a pair of old worn boots. Something that makes your heart sing. Something when you see it or touch it you feel a bubble of happiness, it might be quiet and comfortable, it might have a gentle wry smile, but it will lift and open your heart. One day this is how I’d like you to consider yourself, your body. Follow your imperfections, soften your focus, and see the love. Your broken body is a wonderful thing, and you are full of life. We are wabi-sabi.

Joy and Suffering

Joy and suffering. Pleasure and pain. Laughter and tears. Sometimes life is really very full on. Sometimes you might feel that you’re swirling around, out of control, in a tidal wave of life. Sometimes your loved ones may be under threat, your sanity in tatters and your heart in your boots. The playground of life really can be very challenging. I know some of you feel it, and there are a couple of specific people I’m thinking of just right now. If you read this you’ll know who you are. If you’re in that space now, and it’s years on, this is still for you too.

Firstly it’s worth tuning in to your suffering to find out what it is. Where is it in your body? How deeply do you ache? Is there a pragmatic way around this, or do you have to go through? And if you have to go through, go through you must.

You know that feeling that you just couldn’t make up the suffering and life stuff that you’re in. That it’s throwing you around like a rag doll. My heart goes out to you. It really is tough.

If you find yourself wired to the moon, howling in the rain or just plain lost. Breathe on. Breathe down. And breathe out. Rest, and as you do, see yourself as a mountain, your body as the curves of the hills. Feel the weight of the mountain in your body. Your indivisibility to the earth.

When something big happens, like when a loved one is ill, you need time to honour what is alive in you and what you want to give. What your heart wants most. Not their wellness, nor their healing, but what is most alive in this moment. It’s hard to find the sense of preciousness as you watch others suffer, unable to take away their pain or make it ‘all ok’. But underneath the pain, your pain and their pain, is somewhere else. Underneath all that, if you can go through it there is a very alive and really precious moment, where it might not be what you ‘want’, but it is where you can find infinite tenderness.

Even the greatest tragedy offers up moments of bliss…. If you let yourself suffer enough through it to become present. That’s the hardest part. You have to be brave, too brave.

And finally, if you can, laugh about it. If you can find it within you, have a wry snigger, a furtive giggle or a good old belly laugh at the universe’s ability to send you some really tasty morsels of suffering. Joy and suffering. Pleasure and pain. Laughter and tears.

A Gold Star for Imperfection

This blog is aimed at teachers, but if you tend towards perfectionism there might be something in there for you too.

How Will You Celebrate Valentine’s Day With Your Class?

This blog gives ideas that you can use to share Valentine’s Day with your class or own children.

“Valentine’s Day – the day when you get to tell your true love how deeply you feel for them, the day you get a token of love from that someone special that warms your heart and makes the day sing. Or not.’