Samadhi. Bliss. Liberation. Enlightenment.
All such words are loaded with beautiful and divine descriptions and conjure up ideals of a ‘higher consciousness’, awakening oneself to the ‘true self’. Patanjali describes bliss (Samadhi) as a meditative state, being fully absorbed through the practice of focused attention (Dharana) and effortless meditation (Dhyana), supporting a journey of union between the individual true self (Atman) and the universal absolute (Brahman).
Ok so what does this mean in the modern world? Let’s think less about unrealistic ‘golden gates’ and supreme beings with beards… what does ‘bliss’ mean to you? For me, the idea of bliss represents those moments in between the spaces. In between the thoughts. The moments that feel suspended. Light. Relieved. Content. Free. Accepting. Aware. Well and truly totally present.
In modern society I often wonder if ideas of ‘bliss’ are misguided associations of achievement and wealth to define happiness externally. Sometimes it can seem that when people inquire about ‘happiness’ , it can feel as top-game capitalist as inquiring about your identity through the status of your salary, employment or living arrangement. I struggle to understand this because my mind does not work in assets, rather in experiences. Yet when I really question concepts of happiness and bliss, I know my answer runs deep in connection. Connection with others, and how they made me feel in a moment. Connection with myself when I am really looking inward, reflecting, understanding and intuitively knowing. Connection with nature, in all its awe and beauty. Yoga has encouraged me to connect to these experiences, allowing me to shine more brightly.
Why yoga and bliss?
Modern yoga is heavily asana-based; the physical end of the practice, making shapes. This predominantly works on an outer layer. I was reminded recently that the physical practice of yoga is preparation for ‘taking our seat’. Our meditation seat. Literally moving the body through yoga poses to physically prepare to sit still for lengths of time in contemplation. Through the practice of yoga we journey towards a state of bliss. As far-fetched as that may sound, note the words *practice* and *journey*. Because no one ever became enlightened from stepping onto the mat into their first warrior pose. It is all practice. The deeper we delve, the more we commit, the greater we bear the fruits of our yogic labour, serving ourselves, serving others.
How might yoga help us to find this bliss state?
It’s all about awareness, emotional regulation and states of being. Through the practice of yoga we can start to invite awareness of our mind and body and their unity (through mindfulness), develop emotional tolerance (sitting with discomfort rather than fighting it), increase emotional regulation and soothing (with the core functions of the nervous system) and develop new patterns and behaviours as ways of living off the mat.
Yoga also supports a sense of grounding and togetherness that may promote a psychological shift in perspective. And with the invitation to learn more about yogic philosophy we may shape our values and ways of living. Finding the joy in the small things. In the spaces and moments in between the wanting and craving for the moment to be any different. In the art of acceptance rather than change. In freedom rather than containment. Being exactly who you are, where you are. Momentary liberation, of the bliss state.
Moments of bliss beyond yoga
The bliss state on the yoga mat… Apparently in my first experience of yin yoga. I turned to my best friend and said “if yoga was sex, then yin would be the orgasm”. No I hadn’t actually climaxed, but I must’ve been a cocktail of happy hormones. Blissed-out is an understatement.
But I’d like to share with you two really beautiful experiences, which upon reflection were really about the bliss state and didn’t involve yoga. Both experiences involve nature. And no, I’ve not been hugging trees, but I do have a penchant for star-gazing and cloud-watching.
A few years back I had the privilege of experiencing the northern lights with my big bro bestie pal, quite the Icelandic adventure. It was November. There was no moon. And only a dark night sky alit with magical green beams. The moments and minutes allowed time to stand still as I felt lost into mother earth’s display. There she was. In all her glory. Dancing, without instruction or routine, discovering her own rhythm. Shining and glowing. Now although it may be overbearing for some to bang on about ‘the universe’ chat with a sense of mystical power; but truly, there is no such moment like it to consider your own insignificance. And that there are things beyond us which are purely indescribable. Call it what you want, a Big Bang or something ethereal, the universe was here long before us, and will continue to be, after we’ve achieved our ‘manmade dreams’ of buying bricks and building bank accounts. I like to see us as little lemmings or Lego men. Just plodding along, doing our own mechanical thing. When really there is something much bigger at play. And that is exactly where the magic lies, and the bliss state is offered.
Another moment of bliss which led to questioning my sense of purpose and highlighted my own insignificance was deep in the jungle of Uganda, on the borders of Rwanda and the Congo. In 2005 I was adventuring East Africa after doing a volunteer placement in local village schools, and headed west in search of the Mountain gorillas. As we sat silently in the humid and dense foliage of the forest, 6 hours trek from the nearest snaking footpath, we observed a family of 24 Silverbacks. From the alpha-male and nurturing mother females, to cheeky adolescent ones and babies suckling. One hour in their natural habitat. It is experiences like this that really imprint the mind. A memory that can take you and your senses straight back to that space and time. Where really nothing actually matters at all. Pure present moment living. Bliss.
What are your moments of bliss?
How do you create bliss in your day to day living?
And in what ways can you invite more blissful experiences into you life?
So the moral of the story? Maybe bliss does not lie in ‘achieving’ the ‘American Dream’, in a false outward projection of ‘living your best life’ and an accumulation of assets. The bliss state is momentary, as impermanent as all sensations, part of a journey and discovered through practice. Rather bliss may lie in the many moments of magic, in yourself, with other people, and the world around you.
About Stephanie Minchin
Stephanie Minchin (@theyogapsychologist) is a Clinical Psychologist and Yoga Teacher currently training in Yoga Therapy with The Minded Institute (@themindedinstitute). Steph first fell in love with yoga when she moved to London in 2010, and deepened her practice and spiritual connection in an ashram in Kerala. After completing YTT (200 hrs) in 2014, yoga became an integral part of Steph’s life, finding grounding and growth in personal practice with life lessons beyond the yoga mat. With sensitive inquiry into the individual experience of the mind and body during practice, Steph encourages a curious exploration of the self in yoga as a journey of moving meditation. Steph advocates for the healing powers of yoga and believes that yoga is for everybody and every body, with a little piece of magic in yoga for all, inclusive of shape, size, ability or any other aspect of our individual uniqueness. Steph teaches Flow, Vinyasa, Yin, Restorative and Mandala, and also co-leads the MoreMind project with @lizjoyoakley the MoreYoga team.