Commentaries on yoga

The role of ecstasy in yoga

by Tristan Dorling

Q.

I am experiencing a lot of ecstasy in the body, especially as I practice, but also at times outside of practices. I am experiencing other sensations as well, some of them uncomfortable, such as heat in the body, or a feeling of having too much energy. I find that I can increase the ecstasy if I bring my attention to it. What is causing this ecstasy to happen and is it useful to focus on it?

A.

As the body is purified through spiritual practices, the channels (nadis) which carry prana in the body, become increasingly pure widen. They become able to carry a greater flow of energy through the body. As this happens, there can initially be many symptoms such as a feeling of heat in the body, or tingling sensations on the surface of the skin, or rushes of energy through the body. Gradually, as the purification process deepens, we begin to feel the flow of prana as ecstasy in the body. To begin with, these feelings of ecstasy can be quite localized, felt as an ecstatic connection between two places, or radiating out, in an ecstatic way from one place such as the heart or the spinal cord. Over time, this feeling of ecstasy will deepen and encompass a wider area, until eventually it will fill the whole body.

Contemplating on a mountain

Even then ecstasy will not be present all of the time, or be experienced in the same way all of the time. There will be times when it is experienced as a powerful rush of energy flowing up through the body. These are sometimes referred to as “kundalini rushes”.  At other times the ecstasy will be experienced as  a gentle glow throughout the body, or even radiating into the air surrounding the body. It can feel as if every cell is vibrating with joy. However it is experienced, it is simply a product of the subtle neurobiology being purified by our spiritual practices.

If we are doing our spiritual practices, then the most important thing is not to become distracted by sensations that are taking place, even if they are very enjoyable or ecstatic. We simply carry on with whatever practice we are doing. Dwelling on ecstatic sensations in order to increase them, can be counter-productive, because we can have too much purification taking place at once. So, it is often best to regard ecstasy as a symptom of practices, rather than as a cause, and not to dwell on it. Just do your practices for the allotted time, and then go and live your life normally when you are not on the mat.

If anything is happening that is uncomfortable, then we can self-pace our practices accordingly by reducing practice times, until we find a stable level of practice.  

It can be useful to remember that ecstasy is only one aspect of the process of enlightenment. The other aspect is inner silence, or bliss. Getting too carried away with ecstatic sensations can lead us to a place that is out of balance, and not stable over the long-term. Inner silence, peace and bliss, bring stability to our practice. 

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