Bliss. What does that even mean?

“Follow your bliss” is an oft quoted phrase which I’ve always thought sounds great in theory, but meaningless in practice.

This is because the pressures of modern urban life can sometimes make existance feel like an endurance test.

Financial, relationship and space/time continuum pressures turn every day into survival of the fittest. In such circumstances, bliss seems only available to those elite beings who aren’t fighting for elbow space with everyone else.

All this is obviously said with the certain knowledge that it is a privilege to survive in a city in the developed world, compared to the struggle that is existance in Syria, Sudan or any other of the countless locations that are dealing with the reality of being in hell on earth.

When I did my yoga teacher training at Kripalu I learnt about the 5 koshas – layers of existance – as described in the Taittiriyia Upanishad. The most mystical of these, to me at least, was the Anandamaya Kosha. The Anandamaya kosha is the bliss layer, the deepest layer of human existance.

Intuitively it makes sense that this Anandamaya kosha exists for real. But how to locate it in practical terms, particularly when one’s feeling overwhelmed by the demands and drudgery of daily life?

And once located, can one learn how to tap into it reliably and on demand? When I ask myself when I’ve actually felt bliss, the answers covered a whole spectrum of experiences, from the grandiose to the mundane:

  • snoozing, with no time constraints, when the temperature under the duvet is just the right amount of glowing warmth
  • hot baths
  • being in nature – both epic wilderness and the more parochial English countryside
  • seeing my parents or nephews after a period of time
  • watching my dogs bounding along in the countryside, with great big fat joyous grins on their faces
  • warm vinyasa flow yoga with infra red heating
  • swimming in the sea
  • laughing with friends over something stupid
  • cooking a lovely meal
  • exhausted in mind and body and then getting into a bed with freshly clean sheets
  • a stimulating conversation about life, death, love and the universe
  • Those blockbuster art exhibitions that London is so good at – recently Georgia O’Keefe, the Abstract Expressionists, Hockney and Paul Nash have acted successfully as emergency antidepressents for me

The less tangible tastes of bliss are when everything, for one infinitesimal split second, seems to be ‘in its right place’. Those moments are more about a kind of existential bliss I know it’s foolish to actively pursue.

Yoga of course is a practice that’s meant to prepare us for merging with the cosmic, infinite bliss that is said to be at the core of everything.

It’s hard to remember that when on a crowded bus, late for work, in a stinking polluted city centre; worrying that payday is a few weeks away but the bills are multiplying; or reflecting on the human misery playing out just a few hours’ flight away from London, that no goverment seems willing or able to ameliorate.

I’m no good at believing bliss exists when I’m in those scenarios.

However, I’m making it my business to be determined about pursuing that deepest layer regularly, through those small, accessible moments which are actually readily available.

Asana is one doorway and I’ve been going to warm vinyasa flow on a weekly basis. Wow what a feeling!

Meditation is another and that’s become a non negotiable in my schedule. I wouldn’t say Pranayama is exactly blissful but it’s definitely cleared my head from that muzzy winter feeling of depression.  Cuddling the gorgeous 4 paws is a sure-fire way to feel blissful with minimum effort on my part. Even a good book can do the trick.

This quote by Paramhansa Yogananda is beautiful and a potent reminder of the bliss that exists as a deeper reality than the surface of everyday life.

I am a spark from the Infinite.

I am not flesh & bones.

I am light.

In helping others to succeed I shall find my own prosperity. In the welfare of others I shall find my own wellbeing.

I am infinite. I am spaceless; I am beyond body thought and utterance; beyond all matter and mind. I am endless bliss.



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