I started practicing yoga in 2003, with my heart set on figuring out what bliss felt like. Bliss is one translation of samadhi, the last limb listed in the Yoga Sutras. It’s also translated as absorption, boundlessness, or integration. Whatever you call it, it’s elusive.

At the beginning of my teaching career I tried to bliss people out is much as possible. It worked well enough that on Sunday morning a student blissfully left my class, walked down the stairs to his car, and blissfully rear-ended someone at a stop sign two minutes later.

shavasana_on_bridge
Nobody here is ready to look both ways.

He related this information to me the following week. It was the mildest of accidents, he told me. There weren’t even scuffs on the bumpers. Fortunately, blissed-out people don’t drive too fast.

I don’t think I could have been found culpable in court for causing the accident, but I felt guilty. As happy as students are with experiencing bliss, I was basically unleashing space cadets into the world, blissing around town in 2-ton vehicles. I needed to change how I felt about bliss, and how I taught it.

Nowadays my classes cultivate contentment, drawing inward, and maybe even a bit of the feeling of bliss and absorption. What I added was an epilogue in the practice. I ensure that people feel grounded by guiding them back into the yoga room and into their daily lives.

4X5 orig
We can see all the Buddhas, but we also need to see all the stop signs.

The yoga sūtras speak about puruṣa and prakṛti: an unchanging state in the universe, and the everyday state of affairs. Our challenge is to weave these states together. Can we carry both a sense of bliss and a sense of strong awareness at the same time? Perhaps the best we can do is be able to tack between these two states mindfully, with right effort.

No matter how relaxed I get my students, by the time my palms come together and we say ‘namaste,’ they should be grounded, with a content awareness of those around them. It’s my job to prepare them to pick up their everyday state of affairs where they left off. That to me is the ideal state.

There’s nothing wrong with being completely blissed out. But please, don’t operate heavy machinery while doing so.


Photo credit: “Shavasana on the bridge.” by LikeSpinningPlates is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0