Yoga and Pleasure

I just got a hold of a copy of this month’s Yoga Journal, and in it there’s a great article by Sally Kempton on the different kinds and levels of pleasure in life.  Sally is a “Tantrika” – a yogi and meditator in the Tantric tradition, like most practitioners of Anusara Yoga.  What does that mean?  Sally words it well here:

“Tantrikas look on the body and the world as shakti, or divine consciousness energy.  One of the most beautiful of all the Tantric ideas is that the body, the senses, and the brain are instruments through which spirit, or consciousness, takes pleasure in itself.  When you see life this way, enjoyment — when experienced with awareness – becomes a way of honoring the divine.” (Sally Kempton, Yoga Journal, March 2011, p. 54)

This was a super radical idea in its time, when Classical yoga saw the body as something crude to be transcended, and Advaita Vedanta, a subsequent tradition, saw the body as an illusion.  There’s not much room for pleasure in those traditions.

But then in walks Tantra, a worldview which not only allows but glorifies worldly pleasures – when experienced mindfully.  As you might suspect, some people have taken this and run with it, using Tantric philosophy as an excuse for hedonism.  Needless to say, that is not the intention.  As one of my teachers once said, “which is hardest, to eat a whole bag of potato chips, no potato chips at all, or just one potato chip?”  Savoring something in moderation is a challenge, and as Sally Kempton points out, it is also an invitation to delve fully into the sensory experience being offered without needing to indulge in it repeatedly.

All this is standard Tantric fare; but what I like about this recent article is that it goes quite a bit further and suggests different “levels of pleasure” – starting with the sensory one described above (food, sex, etc.) but then adding four more levels.  The next one she calls “the pleasure of intimacy” – that which is felt with a partner, child, or friend.  After that is “the pleasure of absorption in meaningful work.”  Often this work is given to others as service, and this pleasure can have an effect much more lasting than that slice of chocolate cake.  After that is “the pleasure of inspiration and creativity,” which, as an artist and yogi, I can very much relate to.  This is the flow state, when you have become a vehicle for the art that is coming through you.  The glow that I experience after producing art or movement in this state is its very own form of pleasure.

Kempton’s final level of pleasure is “the pleasure of pure spirit.”  She describes it as “pure, unmediated communion with the essence, with God, with the inner Self.”  For a lot of us, this one is quite a bit harder to access…the voices and the busy-ness just get in the way.  We’ve all had tastes of it though, and what Kempton suggests is that any of the other levels of pleasure, when experienced mindfully, can be portals into this deeper level of connection.  Ultimately, it’s the “remembrance” part of the “remembrance/concealment” dance we all experience in daily life.  Coming to our mats is one way we can remind ourselves that we are bigger than just this one body and one mindset.  Perhaps biting into a crisp, juicy apple or lending a hand at a local school are other ways – ways which we may have even more opportunities to experience in a day.


~ by bridgetannlyons on March 18, 2011.

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