Ananda is a sankrit word that translates as bliss. Another definition of bliss is beatitude, meaning a state of great joy. The euphoria of extreme happiness might also be described as a sense of freedom, the moments when we feel lifted beyond all the burdensome cares of the world. In the awe and wonder of something that surprises or vivifies our being, catches the breath and holds us in suspended moments. Bliss often arises when a great truth dawns and it feels as though we've known it all along but only in a singular poignant moment realised its presence.
There are ways to bliss and unsurprisingly many of them are found on the yoga mat. Have you ever contemplated why YOU felt better after practising yoga? What that afterglow that continued to percolate and seemed to influences your thoughts and actions often long after the cessation of the class itself really was? Yoga differs from other physical exercise due to its intrinsic focus on the mind, body, spirit connection. Most classes include intentional breathing; physical postures and meditation and some will incorporate ancient philosophy and teachings as a means to engage the psyche, enrich experience and deepen understanding as you are brought into connection with the authentic threads that link us to the founding lineages and theories underpinning the sacred practice.
Hindu philosophy is the foundation stone of the Indian yoga system and as one of the 6 schools of thought, Vedanta, meaning knowledge, describes an underlying reality which exists beneath the phenomenal world. Living in sync with nature, responding to and respecting her rhythms allowed for greater knowledge and the development of understanding what lies beneath the seen world. This foundation of everything, an unseen reality, sees the 3 tenets of truth, consciousness and bliss as inseparable. To understand required acceptance and acknowledgement which led to the bliss of pure knowledge - sat, chit, ananda.
There are less intense forms of bliss, the most obvious of which is happiness. Happiness is a state of mind, a way of regarding the world outside and how we decipher and implant as memory or expectation, each experience. Happiness can be a trait or a state - we all know someone who is naturally 'happy go lucky', but it fundamentally depends on our interiorised awareness of what we need to be happy, and what we don't. It's how these ideas are placed upon each experience that determines the emotional response and presiding feeling state.
Happiness is also associated with physical comfort, ease, balance and connectedness. The human body is a complex organism with multiple systems responsible for performing all the functions necessary to sustain life. We are all no doubt familiar with most of these: respiratory system, immune system and cardiovascular system just for example. The lesser known endocannabanoid system (ECS) has the primary function of maintaining balance or homeostasis. Homeostasis relies on neurotransmitters which react with receptors in cells located in tissues throughout the body. The ECS is a cellular communication system that helps regulate various metabolic processes:
"The ECS is a complex modulator of multiple functions of our organism. It is involved in the regulation of such important functions as body temperature control, appetite intake and control, nociception or perception of pain, control of neuronal excitability, learning tasks, emotions, cognitive processes, memory area, sensory perception, motor activity, adiadocinesia (precise movements), reproductive system, sexual activity or libido, sleep regulation, mood regulation, stress management, metabolic regulation, endocrine regulation, modulates growth, differentiation, and cell survival."
Yoga, with it's emphasis on breath awareness is very effective at dialling down the autonomic nervous system and enabling the para-sympathetic state to be achieved, thus placing us in the land of rest, digest, tend, befriend and mend. Yoga also places emphasis on conscious awareness and true perception both of which create psychological changes. It directly influences the HPA axis - the communication channel between the hypothalmus - co-ordinating centre in the brain; the pituitary - master gland, and the adrenals which produce the stress hormones adrenaline & cortisol. These 3 structures are important in maintaining homestasis because they control our reactions to stress and its effect on biological processes such as digestion and the immune system. But there's more... hypothesises have been suggested that yoga can also produce a calming effect similar to that induced by CBD, by stimulating the CB1 receptors in the ECS:
"CB1 is densely distributed in parts of the body involved with emotion, memory, and movement, explains Ethan Russo, MD, a neurologist and cannabis researcher based in Washington State. According to a review published in the December 2018 issue of Molecular Aspects of Medicine, it’s possible that mind-body practices such as yoga and tai chi boost mood by activating CB1 signals in the central nervous system."
There is evidence that some early yogic practitioners were definitely not averse to using mind altering plant based substances to fast track their journey towards enlightement and transcend the limitations of the mind - which is why we often hear about the Soma plant. In chapter 4 of Patanjali's yoga sutras there are slokas which reference 'Ausadhi' defined as hers, drugs or chemical means to alter the gross and subtle body. Nature offers herself as medicine and a means to knowledge and so our ancestors benefitted from a mutual and reciprocal dynamic relationship by living closely with nature. Of course there were risks as with any drug, a dosage too high or too low could be fatal. The Hatha yogis preferred to pursue other means to enlightenment and purification perceiving that the use of drug induced assistance did not require much effort other than to find the correct plant species!
Diving into bliss a little deeper, yogic philosophy offers the premise of a hidden self which is covered. If you think of those Russian dolls that you maybe had as a child, it's similar and suggests we are made up of 5 sheaths, each one becoming more subtle as we move inwards. The outer physical body is the annamaya kosha, meaning food body because our skin, muscles, bones and tissues are effectively made of the food we eat, beneath that reside an energy body; a mind body; a knowledge or wisdom body and right at the centre, the bliss sheath - anandamaya kosha. In the Upanishads this is described as the causal body or the container of the seed of our being. It links to the world of karmic theory and the activation of our dormant potential or kundalini energy. You might also contemplate this as containing the potential for all that we become - just as a tiny acorn contains within it everything the great oak requires.
The causal body is said to be unaffected by and beyond change, but the other sheaths are not. Change means upheaval, and whilst things are reorganising and life is shifting there is inevitably going to arise imbalance. One particular transition where bliss can, for a while at least, seem a distant memory, is during menopause. Within the brain there is a neurotransmitter known as Anandamide. It's known as the bliss molecule because it's a receptor for CBD which is known to stimulates a sense of happiness. Studies have shown that CBD can increase anandamide levels.
"As a pleiotropic, cannabis (and the cannabinoids derived from it), produces many different effects through almost all molecular pathways, by activating or binding to the receptors throughout your endocannabinoid system (ECS) – a complex network which spans your entire body. When you use a CBD product, the molecules from this incredible plant will travel where they are needed, assisting in releasing your own endocannabinoids including bliss neurotransmitter, Anandamide, providing the support you need to regain and maintain balance – exactly what’s missing during those menopausal years. "
Anandamide is able to attach itself to cannabanoid receptors, but it disintegrates quickly, a little like those euphoric moments of extreme joy, awe or wonder which disintegrate the more we try to hold them. Interestingly the bliss molecule synthesises in specific locations in the brain, particularly the areas where memory, motivation, cognitive processing and movement control are managed. So it plays a big part in influencing physiological systems such as how we feel pain, regulation of appetite and our experience of pleasure.
When thinking about seeking bliss, cultivating more joy or recapturing the capacity for awe and wonder that children naturally and instinctively have in spades, I'm always drawn back to some of the ideas offered by the Buddha. He promoted the idea of a middle path, after he'd tried some other less favourable options, in an attempt to seek enlightenment. His cousin and faithful attendant, one of his ten disciples was called Ananda. Ananda acted as a go between, carrying questions from devotees to the Buddha and relaying answers.
Perhaps in this respect ananda is a rainbow bridge that crosses the divide between two ways of being - in the world but not of the world. If locating the route to that bridge is done consciously and truthfully then enhancing its presence through specific yoga practices and the safe use of nature's offerings then Rumi was spot in when he so succinctly put it, "what we seek is actually seeking us".
Along with the bliss of yoga, here are a few of my favourite supplements and some links in case you are interested in amplifying your own potential for balance and bliss:
1. Antioxi Shroom Coffee 2. The Tonic - CBD Patches 3. Fungarium - tinctures
1. I tried to cut out coffee completely but found I really missed that morning wake up hit. Having sampled a few different blends I've found this one to be the most similar in taste and so have now more or less ditched normal coffee for this which has half the caffeine. It's now my preferred way to start the day and give it a little va va shroom without the dehydration and shakiness that ground coffee used to give me. The defend blend has anti-inflammatory properties.
2. I'm a new convert to CBD and I really love The Tonic's products. The owner Kate is extremely knowledgable and very real and the website it clearly layed out so you can access the science and feel confident in selecting the various options. And if you're unsure Kate is quick to answer questions too. The reason I picked the CBD patches is because they offer a gentle measured dose over a 24- 36 hour period and are so easy to use. They help me to feel balanced and take the edge off anxiety, which for me manifests mostly as doubts. I also use the oil drops which work quickly and are stronger and I sometimes take a CBD tea in my flask to classes.
3. I love the packaging of these Fungarium tinctures. A student told me about this Bristol based, organically certified company when we were discussing brain fog and I discovered an offer on the bundle. Lions mane is the one specifically for cognitive improvement and what I like about this particular brand is that the shrooms are all grown and the products produced in Somerset. This is the festive recovery bundle but they also do a specific menopause bundle too. Easy to take, dissolve in water and swig back and let the fun-guys party!
To find out more just click on the links below the images. Please always check with a medical expert before taking any new supplements. Be sure to research the products you choose and try to select sustainable, substantiated and verified providers with high ethical and environmental values and a passion for the products they supply.