Yoga Journal

Can’t Stop the Feeling

A woman named Rita called me recently in a mild panic. She’s a committed vegan who has followed a strict diet for the past five years. But for several months, she’d been craving—and eating—ice cream, pizza, and other foods she normally avoids. She worried that she was falling into self-indulgence.

My immediate intuition was that her system was seeking balance. If you’re healthy, craving a particular form of pleasure is often a sign that you’ve gone too far in abstaining from it. That’s true whether it’s sweets, love, or deep practice.

But Rita isn’t the only yogi I know who gets confused about the line between pleasure and self-indulgence. It’s understandable, because yoga traditions are somewhat split on the subject of pleasure. Some, especially classical and Vedantic yoga, see a basic contradiction between yoga and enjoyment. This viewpoint is summed up in a famous verse in the Katha Upanishad, a text of Vedantic yoga: “Both the good and the pleasurable approach a person. The wise choose the good over the pleasurable.”

Generations of practitioners have taken this as a call to seek the bare concrete floor rather than the cushy rug—celibacy rather than coupling. (Perhaps it would be more to the point to interpret the statement as encouragement to choose your early-morning practice over an extra hour of sleep!) Concrete floors aside, there’s truth in the text, especially if you substitute the phrase “comfort zone” for “pleasure.” Transformation does require you to be willing to move past what’s comfortable.

But the Tantric authors of the Vijnana Bhairava and the Spanda Karikas—two advanced yogic texts—offer a much more nuanced take on pleasure. If classical yoga and Vedanta see the world as fundamentally illusory, and its pleasures as distractions to be transcended, the Tantrists look: divine conscious 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. A famous Tantric verse reads, “Some people think that where there is yoga there can be no enjoyment, and when there is worldly pleasure, there can be no yoga. But on this path, both yoga and worldly enjoyment come and sit in the palm of your hand.”

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Yoga Journal

Yoga Journal2 min read
Breast Wishes
Beloved Facial Serum, $40; Beloved Face and Body Lotion, $48; violetsareblueskincare.com WHY WE LOVE IT: This clean skincare company uses natural ingredients, such as lavender and coconut oil, and is safe for body and environment—no harmful (read, ca
Yoga Journal14 min read
Getting Messy
THE PROCESS THAT LEADS TO CHANGE CAN BE FIERCELY DIFFICULT. HERE, YOGA AND MEDITATION TEACHERS SHARE PERSONAL STORIES OF THE MESSY WORK OF SELF-DISCOVERY AND THEIR BEST TOOLS AND TIPS FOR TAPPING INTO YOUR OWN INNER WISDOM, LOVE, AND CURIOSITY—SO YOU
Yoga Journal2 min read
Just Breathe
My relationship with meditation is bittersweet. Early on, I sensed that it could be useful for my hyperactive mind, but sitting for long periods of time proved difficult: it was a never-ending saga of battles between the urgency to fidget away from p