Fall into Bliss

 

Bliss defined by Merriam-Webster is ‘complete happiness’. What makes happiness complete?  What is the contrast or complement to happiness necessary to balance into bliss? Perhaps that is the point of bliss, experienced beyond a single frequency emotion, rather a layered combination of feelings that come together to create a deeply personal state of joy.

Our human capacity to express bliss varies from spontaneous giggles, unintentional sighs, screams, tears, or even silently sealing our eyes shut, sinking deeper into our seat and finding a smile on our face without using check muscles. One may experience simultaneous feelings of exhilaration along with calm relaxation into a raw moment; often relished after a recently endured struggle, challenge, or dark period. A glimpse of light pierces through pain that blocked us from ourselves, energetically granting us permission to hope for more. Not more trite, superficial happiness, more appreciation of our darkness it's depth and discovery of lightness within. Beyond sight, bliss is an awakening, remembering or falling back into our being.

Bliss sparks our innate desire to be ourselves. We were all bliss experts as babies chilling in the crib, thrilled to discover our toes, bubble up with excitement over gas and squeal in awe of a loved ones’ face. As adults, we take classes, like yoga to relearn how to simply be this way. A very popular yoga pose is Happy Baby, Sanskrit name Ananda, meaning bliss, Balasana, meaning child’s. Practiced on our backs, we reach between our knees, guiding them toward our ribs as the soles of the feet face the sky, holding our big toes, outside edges of feet or ankles, whatever we can grab, rock a little side to side, maybe extending one leg then the other. We attempt to awkwardly recreate an experience that once required absolutely no instruction. As babies we all just explored these sensations as our birthright to discover what felt good, then did what felt good again and we continued to naturally develop our own patterns of bliss.

As adults we also learn how to artificially induce bliss pathways in the brain. Unregulated street drugs like cocaine, heroine, MDMA, and Ecstasy create short-term boosts of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and neuropenepheron, which ‘feel good’.  Illicit drugs is cost our nation more than $700 billion annually relating to crime, lost work productivity and health care, in 2015 according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. We are living in an unparalleled illegal drug epidemic, arguably stemming from the legal pharmaceutical industry. Pharmaceutical drugs designed to ‘block pain’ like opioids reported 18,893 overdose deaths in 2014. Drugs are the leading cause of accidental death, claiming an estimated 270 lives, in the U.S. each day, that is the equivalent of a 747 crashing, and killing all souls on board, daily.

We willingly accept these terms in our human evolution to manufacture ‘feeling good’. Think about the last time you opened a colorful box of mouth watering snacks, tore open a crinkly bag and reached in for a tasty treat. Before swallowing the first juicy bite, did you go in for more? More pleasure or distraction, rarely seeking nutritional nourishment. Or when we order food in a popular restaurant chain from a picture book of food porn, tantalized by abundant choices. A team of scientists and marketing executives carefully orchestrated your experience triggering all the senses beyond each blissful bite.

Manufactured food industries have their own strategy to effectively target our brain chemistry.  Rather than ingesting the chemical to alter moods, researchers study formulas that not only taste good, they stimulate the reward center in the brain, so we crave them more. These specific combinations consist of fat, sugar and salt, are referred to as a Bliss Point.

Thanks to this expensive research, we have a template to play with our own natural combinations of bliss. Let’s breakdown our memories in components of a Bliss Point.  For example, last week I was exhausted after a super challenging day. While driving along PCH, a song came on the radio that I hadn’t heard in years as a sunset unfolded magical colors around me. I turned up the music, rolled down the windows and smiled knowing that, I am okay. 

Sugar- the obvious sweetness of the moment. PCH at sunset, music

Salt- the contrast to the sweet. Super challenging day

Fat- the depth or substance to form connection Felt I am okay.

Imagine, when you held a moment in the awe of just being in bliss. Maybe on vacation, with friends, family, or at peace in solitude, maybe exploring nature, cozy at home, maybe it wasn’t contrived at all but just a random sensation of it all coming together. Think about your memory as images and feelings.  We are tapping into our subconscious, which does not understand words. Picture and feel rather than articulate and analyze, as our subconscious recognizes images, emotions and patterns. This is how we design powerful new patterns of bliss into our psyche.

Now just by searching your memory bank you are stimulating a dopamine pathway. Neuroplasticity is an empowering process for our brains to rewire patterns by accident or choice. Our brains are not cold plastic hardwired machines, rather warm, malleable and receptive to change throughout our lifetime. Neuroplasticity’s shows us that ‘neurons that wire together, fire together’.  If we continue to connect blissful thoughts, feelings and actions, we build patterns leading back into that reward center, deepening these pathways and creating shifts in our brain chemistry which open our propensity for more bliss. The next time I was driving in the spot onPCH, that same feeling washed over me, I am okay and again when I heard that song reminded, I am okay. This happens by accident, yet the more aware I am, the more these 'accident' happen.

Recent research is proving antidepressants, designed to chemically block pathways that lead to depression may be as effective for sustainable change as sugar pills. Despite 1 in 10 Americans prescribed, earning an estimated $11 billion in revenue in 2011, antidepressants efficacy verses placebos stems in the power of belief. If we are choosing to consistently consume a substance, based on the belief of achieving desired results, we tend to also put effort into further supporting those results. That intrinsic motivation is alive in each of us, ready to be tapped from a well of abundance, rather than finite quick fixes from the outside.

Our modern culture spoon-feeds us false beliefs that we need to consume, making up stories for our ego to comprehend based on what we lack. Listing symptoms on drug commercials that we naturally relate to in any given hour with alluring marketing. These products may produce immediate gratification, at the expense of building dependency and the cycle of addiction ensues.  Artificial bliss induces a craving for that stimulation, taking away our freedom to choose various combinations of sustainable bliss.

Our power to choose is a key component in our personal bliss process. As exemplified by a study of 2 groups of rats trained to stimulate their dopamine receptors using a machine. Group 1 randomly received the stimulation and group 2 had the power to choose when to receive the stimulation. The group that made the decisions themselves internally stimulated even more dopamine, producing a self-induced increase in their baseline dopamine levels.

Research shows positive thoughts stimulate dopamine with the power to produce lasting results. There was a study of people who planned a vacation, one group went and the other did not. The group that did not actually take the trip displayed the same increased mood, higher productivity at work, and even sustained their elevated mood and performance for a longer period of time, than the actual vacationers. The action of seeking bliss is as rewarding to our brains as the bliss itself. The importance is seeking within, filling up on the inside with thoughts, feelings and actions that make us feel good, not consuming pills, food and products that mask an ego driven void.

Bliss is not an ignorant happy face, quoting love and light, dreaming about calorie-free bread and smoking crack like a lady. We are raised to subscribe to our society’s manipulative consumerism, which is not only addictive; it is a vacuous existence, with possibly fatal results. We have choices to rely on short-term reprieve with full awareness of the sacrifices required to numb out, or emanate a sense of being where bliss begins to permeate organically all around us.  As we remember who we really are with the capacity to cope without blocking nerves in our brain that we were born with for a reason, or mask the ugly pain that will continue to fester until we reveal its beautiful lesson. Choosing bliss is brave awareness of balance, abundant capacity of shadows and light. Willing to be with a range of contrasting feelings simultaneously, not just light up, but embrace the fall into bliss.

Nourish

Although we may just appear to be lying on the floor with our eyes closed moving through shapes and breathing, there is a lot happening beneath the surface of the Restorative Yoga practice.  We are giving ourselves an opportunity to nourish.

Our root chakra is responsible for safety, security, survival as well as deep connection to a tribe. Today our “tribe” encourages us to be stronger, faster, achieve more if we just continue, often at the expense of ignoring our own survival instincts. We trick our physiology into releasing more chemicals, under the threat of deadlines, traffic and multitasking. Our adrenaline and cortisol levels are maxed out, yet we are exhausted. Outside chemicals help mask any perceived weakness, so we can continue this tribal dance in superficial circles. Until our legs are tired, low-back aches, immune system comprised, anxious and uncomfortable, we have all felt the symptoms of an imbalanced root chakra.

Restorative yoga often addresses physical discomfort, while covertly healing wounded roots ‘in-between’.  Breathing in that space beyond the physical body and thinking mind, pausing before an inhale and sighing out an exhale, along side another tribe member.  Together we begin to ride the natural rhythm of our breath, letting go of personal agendas, experiencing a group intention to simply restore balance. ‘In-between’ trusting gravity from above, supported by the ground below, we are safe.

Inhale the word ‘safe’ exhale “I am” continue this mantra over and over, to gently focus the mind.  Mentally the power of the practice is in the magic of just breathing. Much easier said than done. However, that is why it helps to be in a room with other students and a teacher to guide us away from our preconceived pressures, back into a natural state of being. I often promise my students they are welcome to pick up the ‘to-do’ lists’, decisions and responsibilities after class. All those phone calls and emails will be waiting for us, yet just for the next few precious moments together, we commit to our intention. That intention is personal, yoga is personal connection within ourselves, best understood by not talking ;)

Physically, we move energy back into areas of the body that have been under attack. The low back often feels the pressure from over taxed adrenal glands. Demanding lifestyle choices put us in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. Releasing chemicals from the brain and above the kidneys that alter our body chemistry. Only time truly re-balances adrenal dysfunction, however we can help soothe low back tension through simple movement.

The psoas muscle is also directly linked to survival.  This strip of muscle literally lives in the core of our being, behind the guts, connecting the torso to the legs from the lower lumbar to the top of the femur. As humans we instinctively tighten, attempting to curl into a ball to protect ourselves when stressed. This doesn’t make sense logically under today’s typical threats while at a desk or driving. Yet the area of the brain that perceives danger doesn’t understand our reasons. The psoas pulls on the low back and knees instigating various injuries.  We can release this tension from deep tissue stretches, yin-style holds for a good 5 minutes. Along with deep breathing because the psoas also connects to the diaphragm, full belly breaths are encouraged to invite our intentions deep inside, and complete exhales to release.

In almost every restorative class we address common culprits, low back, psoas, and hips. Often we hear yoga teachers blame hip openers for feeling emotional after class, which may have more to do with the breath, exhaustion and power of suggestion. However, we actually do store emotions, especially grief, in our joints. The hips are the largest joints in the body are basically a storage bin of stress. By inviting mobility, maintaining full range of motion to lubricate this ball and socket we let go, without the drama or stories. Key element throughout an effective practice is Somatic Experiencing, to understand that issues living in our bodies might not need to be analyzed or articulated to heal.

The group intention of the restorative yoga practice is to bring the body back to balance, not balance like a fancy inversion to post on Instagram, but truly balance the whole self. Balancing our 1st chakra, our root, is essential to build a solid foundation. In class we reconnect with our own breath, assured by the breath of others around us, and a leader guiding us. Almost as a way to reaffirm our own sense of self, being safe, secure and connected to a tribe. If we are really committed to deep relaxation, we even release oxytocin and begin to shift our body chemistry.  We ease muscle tension, increase joint mobility, and find a little peace of mind. All of these effects last well beyond the end of class.  We continue to infuse this practice into everyday life, simply by restoring our roots, we really nourish.

Inside

Inside a hard, yet fragile egg grows a baby chick. Cozy and nurtured; little feet begin to reach to the bottom; little wings push against the sides and a little beak begins to yearn for air. Instinctively, this baby wants to stretch and breathe so begins the arduous process of breaking free. She begins to peck, peck, peck with her new tool to eventually crack, and break apart the walls of her old protection.  She would have suffocated and died If she stayed safe inside.

I was told this powerful story in a stealth way.  This woman I admired through work sat me down, and began in a sweet voice describing this egg and cute baby chick, with so much light and vast potential. Then dramatically illustrated fighting against the hardness around her, as she finished with the punch line, “or choose to curl up and die,” and I finally got it.

She saw that I was suffocating, grasping for air in small sips through any little crack already broken for me. Yet, I needed to be empowered, and she gave me permission to use my own beak. To be curious about the strength I already possessed, that would enable me to explore beyond the walls that confined me. I couldn’t do what I was meant to do inside, yet I was the only one capable of opening myself up to life.

To escape our familiar, cozy, safe space is a painful process. Even if we understand by staying we die, it takes strength, tenacity and grit to leave. The first few pecks fail to pierce though, yet as we continue we create structure and routine to validate each effort and even begin to appreciate the rhythm of our struggle. After the process has started there is absolutely no going back. We preserver with a mantra, focused thought or repetitious movement to break us from the mold that already served its purpose.

Many of us awaken inside a shell of existence several times in this life. Or often we ignore the signs, and the universe breaks it for us, forcing a dangerous escape. In this story, I was uncomfortable enough to hear my angel whispering that I had the courage inside to set myself free.

Just like the baby chick we yearn to stretch and breathe bigger than life in an egg allows.  Yoga is an awesome opportunity to practice exploring our edges, welcoming changes of personal growth. Not just through physical movement, we also stretch our minds beyond daily ‘to dos’ and our emotions rebound back to our center.  In our center we all find yoke, inside. To yoke, is the definition of yoga.

In yoga class we retell the story of beginning in a safe space, as we start to breathe and move bigger, we challenge ourselves to open in many ways, closing together with Namaste, ‘When I am in that place in me and you are in that place in you, together we are one.”  One yoke, one light, one baby chick to another.

Happy Easter!  “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper, not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Grounded in Gratitude

I often refer to the practice of yoga and meditation as ‘doing our own work’. Totally different than doing my job, as a Yoga Therapist. This is consistent yoga and meditation practice that helps me stay balanced between classes, to contribute as a productive member of society. My intention for teaching is to share some of these tools, with my students, so together we create more balance beyond the yoga studio walls.

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Fall into Fruition

FRUITION

1 pleasurable use or possession :  enjoyment

2 a :  the state of bearing fruit

b :  realization

Falling in love might seem to just happen. Yet divinely transpired through a vast series of external factors, internal events that match the attraction of the moment. Trust the process of opening and closing back up, softening and becoming hard enough to protect against adverse conditions. Then chisel away the armor to reconnect, and recreate, together. This ebb and flow, give and take is far from an individual’s evolution. It takes a village to build character, creativity to crack open the seed to blossom, and ultimately bear fruit.

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