Yesterday as I Namasté-d to mark the end of my yoga session, euphoria swirled in my head like a wisp of bliss. I breathed out, releasing a final sigh of carbon dioxide and reveled in my moment of freedom. Shoulders lower, spine taller, my body floated out of the studio. How was it I’d almost skipped class?
When feelings of calm and ease accompany the practice, why don’t I do it ten times a day? If it has the power to eliminate pain, anxiety, and stress, why don’t I do it every chance I get?
I wish the answer were simple, but wrapped up in my messy human body and brain are all the modes of procrastination and laziness ever configured. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow? Couch and coffee have such an extreme pull on me that sometimes, the thought of giving them up in place of exercise is the most dreadful thing I can imagine. But when I’m doing what’s good for me, I move my butt and go to yoga. And I neverregret it.
I’m trying to honor my body by giving it what it needs. It needs feel-good vibes and good food. Since bad days lurk around every morning alarm, I got to thinking about all the places I may find euphoria. And I urge you, too, to seek it out. In this world of fast-paced everything, we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to slow down once in a while and participate in healthy activities that release those endorphins. There’s enough pain and suffering going on; let’s allow some pleasure to shine through those cracks.
Here are 6 ways to trigger your pleasure center:
1. Practice Yoga
Two years ago, I found my studio—my place in the yoga world. I’d stopped practicing yoga about two years before that because I struggled with muscle and joint pain, and the yoga classes available to me only seemed to exacerbate my symptoms. Something in me had changed, and I needed gentler exercise. But try as I might, I didn’t find it. So I let yoga go. I wasn’t happy about it, but I could no longer motivate myself to complete a thousand successive Downward Dogs and Chaturangas.
Since I’ve been at doing yoga at this studio, I’ve grown ¼ inch, my muscles have lengthened, and my arm, back, and leg strength has increased. I used to suffer such extreme back weakness that every three months or so I’d bend down carelessly to pick up a towel or clean the toilets and I’d end up on the floor, unable to move. It was a long road to recovery, and my back still has pain, but I can function, and I feel strong.
It may take you a while to find your studio or instructor, but if you remain committed, it’ll be worth it. Start with restorative yoga. Stretch those limbs, breathe, and Namasté your way to improved health and state of mind.
2. Forest Bathe
When I first heard the term forest bathing, I laughed, picturing myself in the middle of the forest, sitting naked in one of those old galvanized tubs and scrubbing my armpits with a handled loofah. But forest bathing is much less literal and typically requires more clothing. It refers to immersing yourself in nature. Taking a hike in a beautiful place is the perfect way to do this. When I walk through the 28-acre park near my house, I take it all in, feel my legs stretching out in front of me as my feet swallow the path.
Connecting with nature feels so good, and when I reach the top of a hill and set my gaze on the purple and orange sunset, a little blast of energy fills my head. I feel transformed into a happier, healthier being by exerting myself and letting nature bring me back down to a comfortable resting heart rate.
I used to get the same feeling when I ran. In college, there was this street we called Ford Hill. It stood at a 45-degree incline. When training to prepare for basketball season, after a couple of miles, that hill showed up in the middle of my run. On my toes, I climbed, slowly, because it was a beast that threatened to pull all the muscles in my legs, twist my ankles, and make me pass out. But when I reached the top, man, I felt a lifting of everything heavy in my head and body. Endorphin rush accomplished. Forest bathing at its finest. And it led to some of the best sleep I’ve ever had.
The sun is a natural, healing force of nature. We think of it as dangerous because of its damaging UV rays. We slather ourselves in sunscreen. We shade our faces and seek shade in efforts to fight off cancer. The truth is, we all need a little sunshine. The sun provides us with Vitamin D, which our bodies use to absorb calcium and promote bone growth, among other benefits.
If you’ve never lain in the sun and let its warmth lower into you like a mini orgasm, you haven’t truly lived. Yes, wear sunscreen, and limit your exposure somewhat, but stop fearing the sun. It’s good for you and feels good, too.
4. Get It On
During sex, physical sensations of pleasure cause the brain to release chemicals that make us feel even more pleasure. Sex also has many health benefits. Need I say more?
5. Get Creative
Photography, painting, writing, etc. are all creative endeavors that help boost mood. Participating in right-brained activities can send you into “flow state,” a state of being where you lose track of time and become completely submerged, which requires intense concentration. This can enhance performance and heighten levels of neurotransmitters in your brain. Imagine all the feel-goods bursting in your nucleus acumbens, which controls dopamine release, shooting off like fireworks to improve your attitude, self-esteem, and performance.
We all know that when we feel better, every aspect of life often improves. Hobbies also help relieve anxiety because they give us a sense of self outside of the demands of work and home. When participating in activities we enjoy, we feel freer and can come to see ourselves and each other with more love; we relate to each other with more patience and understanding.
Creative endeavors help bring the world to us as if through a rose-colored lens. The lows don’t seem so bad, and the highs seem, well, higher.
Two years ago, I attended a six-week mindfulness course when my doctor suggested it. He thought I would benefit from learning techniques for lowering stress and anxiety. He was right. It worked.
If you don’t meditate regularly, the benefits wither away. Most of us don’t have time to lie quietly and do “nothing.” But once you practice and learn how to quiet your mind, you realize the act of meditating isnotdoing nothing. You will soon discover just how free and euphoric meditation can make you feel. And then, you may be more likely to make the time to do it.
I recommend starting with guided meditation, which is more like a step-by-step imagery session that gives you something to focus on—a place of peace to visit in your mind. And you willfall asleep. But as you become more attuned to the practice, as with anything, you become better at it.
The course I took also taught breathing techniques, because ironically, breathing is hard. We take it for granted as an automatic respiratory function, but most of us don’t actually breathe correctly. We suffer from shallow breathing, which doesn’t allow the body or brain to oxygenate and relax. When you take deep, slow breaths, your lungs expand, and those muscles strengthen. You allow more air in to spread through your body in a lighting, lifting, calming experience.
With enough meditation, you can experience that euphoria—that feeling of being in a pain-free, happy state where you respond instead of reacting, where you enjoy instead of stressing out.
1. Cirino, Erica. “Why Does Sex Feel Good?” Health Line.15 Mar 2008. < https://www.healthline.com/health/why-does-sex-feel-good#1 > 7 February 2019.
2. Freeman, Shanna. “What Happens in the Brain During an Orgasm?” How Stuff Works.7 Oct 2008. < https://health.howstuffworks.com/sexual-health/sexuality/brain-during-orgasm.htm > 7 February 2019.
3. Zimmerman, Eilene. “Hobbies Are Rich in Psychic Rewards.” The New York Times.2 Dec 2007. < https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/02/jobs/02career.html > 3 February 2019.