“Desire is the interface between you and that which is greater than you. It is there to pull you into the next thing.”
Mama Gena

A few weeks ago, I had the “pleasure” of interviewing Mama Gena, founder of the School of the Womanly Arts in NYC, for my Live Your Truth group coaching course. I’ve been hearing about this legendary icon for over a decade. She rocks women’s (and men’s) worlds—teaching them to reclaim their innate sensuality and power through radical pleasure.

Mama Gena introduced me to the concept that “Pleasure Is a Discipline.” Radical notion. Just as important as physical health, emotional well being, spiritual development, and financial stability, pleasure must be elevated to a higher priority in our lives.

I decided to go on a little pleasure treasure hunt for some practical tools to boost my joy quotient. I, for one, spend a little too much time in front of my computer on my imagined “shoulds” (building my audience, trying to be efficient, perfecting business systems) and not enough time savoring the bounty of the beautiful Rocky Mountains I stare at all day long here in Aspen—forgetting to enjoy the ride.

Our Cultural Inheritance

Western civilization rests on a patriarchal (left-brain) lineage, emphasizing mind, logic, and goal-orientation (vs. process-orientation). A patriarchal mindset seduces us to suppress personal hopes, dreams, joy, and play in deference to what is expected, proven, and considered logical, efficient, and effective.

Myth: More is better. Faster is best.

Result: We end up feeling inadequate and guilty because we can’t return all of our daily emails, never have enough time, or don’t make more money. This systematic stuffing down of authentic self-expression and simple pleasures—a basic human need for play and self-actualization—creates enormous emotional pain.

Temptation: To turn to addictive substances and behaviors in an effort to ”feel better,” which results in an endless cycle of disconnect, leading us further and further away from authentic sources of happiness. We seek more in order to mask a sense of overwhelm that comes from losing ourselves in false expectations. This external drive to succeed puts our bodies and souls at risk, robbing us of the sheer joy of the unbearable lightness of being.

Solution: How can we tap into what genuinely brings us pleasure (without the pharmaceutical side effects or hangover), confidently embrace it, and share it with others?

4 Ways to Determine Your Definition of Joy

1. Create a Desire List

Say “yes” to your imagination! Tune into your desires (which are your truth). What brings you pleasure? Make a list of 100 simple pleasures—things that bring you joy.

Cardinal Rule: Enjoy creating your Desire List. Unleash your power through wild, unabashed creativity.

Think big. Then, think bigger. What do you really want? A Caribbean vacation, an organic garden, a nap?

As I write this, I’m staring at a bouquet of rocket-fuel-orange tulips bursting into an abstract floral sculpture on my desk. They smile at me, begging me to be happy. It works.

“Pleasure is the fertilizer for your dreams and desires.”
Mama Gena

2. Go on a Play Date Every Day

Do one thing every day for the sheer joy of it. When feeling stressed, ask yourself: What would make me feel good right now; what do I need to do? Then do it!

Commit ten to twenty minutes a day to do something just because. Think play, fun, pleasure, frivolity, idleness. Go on a walk in the woods, buy flowers and arrange them, flip through a book or magazine that inspires you, listen to uplifting music, savor a piece of chocolate, enjoy an enriching conversation with a friend. Indulge. Every. Day.

3. Train Your Happiness Pathways

When we embrace life’s simple pleasures as a discipline—taking a moment to recognize and relish goodness—we trigger the body’s reward system. We start identifying more with what is pleasant and enjoyable in our lives and embolden a sense of satisfaction, ease, and joy.

Joy 101—The Neuroscience of Pleasure

The reward pathway starts in the ventral tegmental area of the brain, where dopamine is produced. From there, the reward pathway extends to the prefrontal cortex. Choosing activities that are naturally pleasurable stimulates the ventral tegmental region to begin producing dopamine, oxytocin, and other feel-good neurotransmitters.

We literally train our bodies to recognize and register joy. During or after each “Joy Activity,” look in the mirror and say to yourself “I feel good,” “I’m happy,” “Wow, how fun!” You get the idea. Verbal cues equal positive reinforcement.

4. Before You Eat, Drink, or Sleep, Do a Quick Five Sensory Meditation

Sit down when you eat or drink. Inhale the aroma. Let it waft in and settle in your bones. Look around and indulge in a feast for the eyes. See the colors. Train yourself to recognize beauty. Slow down to really taste the food you are eating or drinking. How would you describe it? What textures do you feel? Temperatures? What do you hear? Can you hear sounds outside the walls of your room? What inner sensations or sounds register? Tune in. Over time, your sensory organs will become more subtle and skillful.

Since the mind bends toward the negative, it requires discipline and training to focus on the positive and consciously register pleasure—physically and emotionally. When we take on pleasure as a discipline, we lay down new neural pathways and more quickly identify with the good and beautiful in our lives. We begin to shift our internal state toward one of joy, gratitude, and happiness.

Ease, fun, play, and joy are signs that you are close to your soul. Enjoy!

Please share what are your three greatest simple pleasures in your life?

Elevating personal growth as a lifestyle, Ashley Turner, M.A., brings a fresh approach to yoga as a modern-day psychotherapist with a soulful bent on celebrating the body’s wisdom and inner spirit. Ashley is the co-author of Aroma Yoga®: Using Essential Oils in Yoga + Life and creator of four best-selling yoga DVDs. She leads monthly, weekend retreats at Montage in Laguna Beach, CA, as well as retreats and workshops around the globe. For more on her and her events, visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Join Ashley: YOGA TANGO RETREAT in Buenos Aires, ArgentinaOct 28 – Nov. 2 and URBAN PRIESTESS – Empowering the Feminine at Kripalu in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, Nov 23  25.

*Photo by kthread.