Ana Forrest first introduced me to the Ecstatic Spectrum. This is a range of feelings plotted from the greatest pleasure to the least pleasure. Every experience is somewhere on the scale.
Samadhi < Ecstacy < Joy < Bliss < Contentment < Indifference < Annoyance < Dislike < Sadness <
Emotions are infinite in their expansion. There are no glass ceilings or rock bottoms.
I bet you are wondering ‘What has this got to do with yoga?’
Yoga is a way of moving energy around the body. This energy is often called prana, chi or life force.
After a class (or during a class) you may have a sense that something has shifted, you may get a deeper insight into something that has previously been a mystery, or a wave of release in a pose. Or you may simply think ‘Ah, I always feel better after yoga practice.’ All of these are examples of ways that energy been redistributed within the body.
How does energy move? It travels with awareness through the different sheaths of the body (in addition to the physical body studied in the west), the yogic body has many layers. In Science of Breath by Swami Rama this is described in more detail:
‘If we were able to look at one another, seeing past each others physical body, we would percieve a subtle body instead, a body of energy.’
‘The inner energy flow is such a delicate and intricate thing that some experts have spent their entire lifetime in its exploration.’
Moving energy from stagnant or indifference (or lower down the scale) to a place of joy and bliss is what keeps bringing me back to my mat, day after day.
This isn’t a magic formula for superhuman powers- over time the physical body and lungs do get stronger. It is a way of experiencing an almost instantaneous change that makes the subtle body function on a different level in a more pleasurable way.
For example, I can do Warrior 2 with perfect alignment in a joyful way or in a disliking way.
In the latter, my inner dialogue is ‘I feel discomfort in my legs -my legs are tired’ so I sag into my hip joints and effectively stay upright purely by balancing in the pose. Now I am doing the pose with less physical effort, but crucially MORE mental effort. My mind is ‘when can I get out of this pose,’ or, ‘I am weak.’ My mind is in the future – looking to the next pose. The longer I am in the pose the weaker I feel. This is not where I wish anyone to be!
Or in the former, I can rise out of the ground and stand firmly in my legs, pelvis and core. I can feel my muscles working but I reframe the dialogue ‘with each breath I am getting stronger.’ I am enjoying the pose. The longer I am in it the more I enjoy it. My mind is steady, I use little mental effort. I am in the present moment.
There are things to be learnt with whatever we bring onto the mat each day. And we can meet and learn from these without judgement. But faced with a choice, wouldn’t you rather practice in a way that brings you joy?
The transformation can then really begin, using the tools learnt on the mat with how we approach situations off the mat. If I can experience joy in a tough pose, can I also experience joy doing mundane tasks?
The ecstatic spectrum is not about taking the easy way, or about only doing things you enjoy, the poses you enjoy for example, nor is it about only doing things you dislike as a challenge to see if you can reap some pleasure. Its about meeting everything as an opportunity to gain some enjoyment from it. And yes, this includes ebolutions, cleaning the toilet, I can keep going but you get the gist…
Samadhi is one of the highest states of being. Donna Fahri in her book Bringing Yoga to Life describes this below:
‘The joy I refer to is not a climatic high we associate with excitement or stimulation, but a deep sense of awe and wonder that can suffuse the most ordinary things and the most ordinary moments. This joy arises out of our own intrinsic nature.’
Have I got to Samadhi yet? Not quite – but I’m heading in the right direction.
Where are you on the Spectrum? Dare to feel more pleasure.