According to Yoga’s model of the pancha koshas (five sheaths), the experience of Joy emanates from our innermost sheath, the ananda-maya-kosha (the bliss body). In this most subtle sheath, the current of natural bliss is constantly flowing illuminated by the light of the Self. The 8 Limbs of Yoga, nurtured over a long period of practice, allow us to attain this innermost layer.
What can we do in the meantime? We can access our innate blissfulness via experiencing expansive shapes and fluid movements, being open and present, as well as practicing gratitude, loving-kindness, and self-less service. We are born with a great capacity for joy and awe and these practices help us reconnect to it. I can’t help but notice the inherent happiness and curiosity of my 20-month-old granddaughter. She laughs easily and is quietly fascinated by the sound of an airplane, the flight of a bird, or the softness of a flower petal.
While all kinds of yoga asana and mindful movements can contribute to making us feel good, there are specific shapes we can create and movements we can make that invite a greater sense of joy and bliss.
Shapes and Movements That Invite Joy
Prana is our life force energy and what we do and what we experience can either deplete, sustain, or build our prana. We tend to feel sluggish and sad when our flow of prana is weak. Shapes that are open and expansive enhance our prana and energize us. Observe how you feel when you stand and make yourself big; lift your chest, gaze upward toward the sky, and stretch your arms up and outward. It’s an uplifting body shape that expresses joy and the awe of experiencing something greater than yourself. We can create open, expansive shapes in our yoga practice to invite this same feeling such as urdhva hastasana, virabhadrasana 2, ardha chandrasana 2, hasta padangusthasana 2, supta padangusthasana 2 and many of yoga’s back extensions like urdhva dhanurasana.
The flow of moving with the breath (vinyasa) makes us feel good whether you are practicing surya namaskara or gently rocking your knees back and forth while supine. Fluid, rhythmic movements tend to be soothing and calming. When we are in the flow, time slows down and we engage in the present moment. When we are feeling blissful, we aren’t thinking about the past or the future. We are open to experiencing what is happening now.
Natural movement (the movements you develop from interacting with the environment as an infant and child) allow us to tap into the freedom and pleasure we experienced in childhood play. I enjoy warming up for yoga asana with natural movement; rolling side-to-side from prone to supine, rocking on all fours, and crawling along the ground warms up my muscles, prepares my joints for holding yoga poses and starts my practice with a lighthearted connection to the earth. When I teach natural movement, I see the smiles and hear the laughter emanating from students. Having fun transports us out of our self-focused mindset. There are lots of ways to make yoga asana more playful; insert a cheerful hop from downward dog into a squat, an explosive jump from tadasana out to hasta padasana, turn upside down with energizing inversions, throw a ball back and forth to a friend while balancing in vrksasana or get silly rolling onto your side into parsva dhanurasana.
We experience joy in effort. Movements that moderately challenge us give us a sense of accomplishment and make us feel empowered. Bliss, such as the runner’s “high,” can be found in any sustained activity after a reasonable intense effort. This morning, I rode my bike to the gym and weight trained. On my bike ride back home, I noticed how content and happy I felt. In yoga asana, work towards a pose that is slightly challenging to you just for the fun of it.
In addition, linking physical movement with social connection enhances the benefits of both. There is a collective joy when we move in synchronicity with others, whether dancing, walking, singing, or yoga. Moving in unison helps people bond, experience a shared awareness, and build friendships.
tat tvam asi
Translates as “thou art that” meaning that you and the Universe are One.
I conducted an informal survey asking yoga students what other types of movement makes them feel joyful and an overwhelming number of them mentioned walking in nature. Consider taking an “Awe Walk” in a natural setting. The wonders of life surround us. Tune into your senses and pay attention to being in the presence of, and connecting to, things that feel bigger than yourself. Separation dissolves as you tap into reverence for all of nature’s awesomeness.
Being Present is a Condition for Joy
Joy arises when mental chatter ceases and we focus completely on whatever is happening now, absorbing the feelings and sensations of the present moment. This is true whether you are watching a beautiful sunset, listening to a captivating song, or conversing with someone dear.
You can be open and present in your daily life, while seated silently in meditation, or while practicing yoga asana. To establish open space and presence in asana, create the shape, pause in silence, and feel. One of my long-time yoga teachers, Judith Hanson Lasater, recommends, “Find the still point in every pose.” Avoid the temptation in always taking action or constantly improving your alignment in every yoga asana. Give yourself permission to receive, absorb and enjoy your yoga practice.
Long savasanas and other forms of non-sleep deep rest allow us to connect to the stillness, silence, and bliss of our center.
Practicing Gratitude, Loving-Kindness, and Helping Others Cultivates Joy
Yoga Sutra 2.42
Through the practice of santosha (contentment), one attains supreme happiness.
Santosha, is the contentment that arises from dwelling in our true nature. Making a habit of being grateful and appreciating what we have helps us notice the gifts of life. Eventually, we realize that we aren’t dependent on external things for fulfillment. It is the act itself of being grateful that cultivates the joy that is innate in all of us.
Yoga Sutra 1.33
The mind becomes calm by cultivating attitudes of:
friendliness towards those who are happy,
compassion for those who are suffering,
goodwill towards those who are virtuous,
and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as evil.
Yoga Sutra 1.33 reminds us that we can become happier by being happy for others. The Dalai Lama states that the basic source of all happiness is kindness and warm-heartedness towards others. You can practice this via metta (loving-kindness) meditation. First, direct loving-kindness toward yourself and then, in a sequence of expansion, ultimately toward all beings everywhere.
Karma Yoga is the path of selfless service to others. Research shows that helping others is often the best way to help yourself feel better. It shifts attention away from our own worries and concerns and gives us meaning and satisfaction.
Your Path to Joy
Everyone is unique and your path to joy will be different from others. When I conducted that informal survey asking yoga students what types of movement brought them joy, they all had slightly different answers. Yoga teaches us that we will find fulfillment when we align clearly with our own true Self, and the path through the pancha koshas toward the innermost sheath of bliss is as unique as we are.
Yoga Sutra 1.3
Through the practice of Yoga, we stop identifying with the activities of the body and mind and we abide in the freedom and bliss of our own true nature.
Opportunity to Cultivate Joy with Lori and The Prairie Yoga Teachers
You are invited to tap into your own innate joy with us as we connect to the ananda-maya-kosha through the practice of yoga, natural movement and immersions in nature during a wonder-filled week at Feathered Pipe Ranch, September 2-9, 2023.
ABOUT LORI GASPAR
Lori Gaspar, BFA, MA, C-IAYT, 500 E-RYT, YACEP, is the Founder and Director of Prairie Yoga. Known as a “teacher of teachers”, she developed the yoga teacher training curriculums that have trained over 700 yoga teachers in the Midwest.
The creator of Yoga for Strength and Stability®, her teaching integrates natural movement into the yoga practice. Lori served on Yoga Alliance’s Ethics and Standards Advisory committees and was named by Yoga Chicago as an outstanding woman leader in Chicago’s yoga community. She has been featured in Yoga International, Voyage Chicago, Mantra Yoga+Health, Yoga Chicago, and Yoga Teacher Magazine.
Learn more about Lori: prairieyoga.org