Chances are that you can identify some activities, memories, or experiences that made you feel joy. Things like connecting with nature in all her splendor and getting away from the fixings of our modern lives, being in the company of people you love, or doing an activity that warms your heart, are examples. What you identified is likely joy that was created by an external source. While these experiences are important in our lives, the tradition of yoga teaches that if we grow attached to them (raga) or conversely avoid or dislike other experiences (dwesha), we set the stage for suffering – wanting more of this, avoiding that.
Some of you may have identified a memory of joy that was more internal. Getting still and experiencing quietude, for example. The yoga tradition implores us to find joy from within more often.
How do you find joy within yourself?
The first clue to answer this question comes from another question: Where do you experience joy in your body?
If you close your eyes and remember a joy-filled experience, chances are you feel something going on in your chest. This is not to say that you won’t have other sensations elsewhere, but most of the sensations will likely be centered in the chest area. Why? Because, as the tradition teaches, the heart-centre is where your soul is situated (hrid). When you experience joy, you are connecting to your soul!
Practicing for a joyful experience
You can, and must, practice in a way that connects you to this part of your being more often. The tradition teaches that you are made of 5 sheaths (koshas), and the fifth sheath is the bliss body (anadamayakosha). Effectively bliss is inherent within us. You can move through the other lower levels, or sheaths. of your being (physical, energy, mental, subtle mind) to access the bliss body.
The approach to practice is important, as is what you practice. First, you get still, finding a comfortable seat, closing your eyes, connecting with a steadily flowing breath, and perhaps focusing on movement of the breath up and down your spine. If you do this at the beginning of your physical practice, your mind will be more still, having moved past some of its ongoing busy-ness and distraction.
Moving into physical practice you keep a steady rhythm in your breathing and use poses that will open up your chest, but also the space between your shoulder blades on your back. (Remember the heart centre is not only the front chest but the back body as well). Adding some inhalation retentions will create a lightness and clarity in your practice that brings you closer to joy.
After physical practice and relaxation, do pranayama, such as even circular breathing, that enlivens energies at your eyebrow centre. Let this energy build while you practice for several minutes and then will it down to your chest centre and meditate there.
We must practice accessing the anandamayakosha, or the bliss body, for it does not come naturally. Most of us are deeply entrenched in the goings-on of the physical and mental bodies. These lower bodies impede connection to the bliss body.
Over time and with practice we are able to connect with this part of our being. Over time and with practice we are more readily able to find bliss in our lives. There will always be challenges in life, this we can count on. How we are able to move through the challenges is really what matters, for life is but a series of experiences from which we grow.
The next time you experience joy, really rest in it, let it imbibe you. Create an imprint (samskara) of this experience. The more of these we have the greater their force becomes in our daily lives. We get to live more joyfully!
Enjoy practicing joy. Download the audio class here to experience a lecture, practice, including meditation, that address all of the above.