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.