How can a method of linking mind to body to breath and spirit bring delight? And is it okay to enjoy what can sometimes feel like rigour and intense sensations of stretching reluctant body parts?
Something in our Vancouver Island cultural heritage points to the hair shirt faction of our ancestral practices of self denial and asceticism. My early training in school and in the community created suspicion and even leeriness about pleasure. It seemed a slippery slope from delight to degradation.
The Western European values of hard work and dolorous demeanour were measures of one’s seriousness about the business of life. One had to work hard to "get ahead”. Play was frivolous. Admonition and directions to "get back to work” quickly controlled laughter in school.
The Scots who gave their names to Cameron Lake, Machleary Street and Craigalatchie had advanced their personal interests and laid down a pathway to success: hard work, self denial, saving and sobriety. Personal salvation was a serious undertaking.
Fortunately their grip on our capacities for fun, playfulness and pleasure has loosened. And yoga is one way to revel. It is not so much the actual movement of yoga that tenderizes me with joy, as it is the contemplation of the source of pleasure itself. What if our delight was the way the Divine experienced the world? Alice Walker thought so in The Colour Purple, her Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the 1980’s. "God takes pleasure when we are filled with the beauty of the colour purple as we walk past fields of flowering crops,” Celie tells Shug.
Some of the yoga asanas are difficult or painful to introduce to the body. The challenge can be too much for some who then turn away. Sometimes the body feels uncomfortable during or even after a practice of yoga. Something new has shaken the old patterns of holding in the body.
But more often than not, the impact of the poses is freeing and expansive. As though the Divine has tasted pleasure through me.
When we come to our mats, we bring our entire selves, including our attitudes to work, joy and pleasure. And as we tune into our attitudes we can embrace more fun and diminish the negative inner conversation.
I invoke the positive feelings before a practice. I notice the negative messages I may have about the challenges, my age, my stiff body and our expectations of continuous certification in the Iyengar method. I ask that my being be a vehicle for wonder, delight, amazement and peace. And I welcome those mind states in whatever forms they present themselves.
Rumi, the Persian mystic, crazy-wise monks in the Zen tradition, St Anthony of the Christian faith and Thomas Merton, a 20th Century monk, broke a path toward ecstasy and delight. The yogis who take to the mat every day to ascertain the body/mind state and tune into the fullness of life continue the investigation of the wonder of our embodied selves.
Enjoyment energizes us. And we can transfer the joy of yoga to daily life. Walking the many trails of Vancouver Island is an opportunity to experience pleasure in the senses. Then as yogis who are refining our awareness, we learn to turn from the object of the pleasurable moment and focus on the sensation of pleasure itself.
What we are doing on the yoga mat is cultivating an awakened outlook. When we draw into our own hearts to savour the joy of living, we are drawing closer to the essential Self that resides in wonder. And then we know ourselves as bodies of Light.
Enjoy your practice!Namaste.
Kelly Murphy is owner of Bend Over Backwards Yoga Studio in Nanaimo.