MIND-BODY-SPIRIT Rediscovering Pleasure

BY ELENA KHAZANOVA For babies and animals, pleasure is intuitive. Without the societal conditioning of caution, suspicion and guilt, opportunities for enjoy- ment abound. A juicy bite, a delicious snuggle, or moments of ram- bunctious play are all there for the taking. As we grow up, pleasure becomes less straightforward. Food, rest, play, sensuality all have their “shadow” side. We are programmed to focus on health, safety, productivity and/or service over pleasure. With my psychotherapy clients, I am astonished how often pleasure is “paired” with guilt, embarrassment, or fear. Is it true that too much pleasure takes away from one’s health, safe - ty, productivity, or social standing? It doesn’t have to, when coupled with basic self-care. Research shows that people who enjoy life have better health outcomes, their productivity is more sustained; they are also, on average, more altruistic and generous. How, then, do we give ourselves permission to drop the unhelpful anti-pleasure conditioning and enjoy life more fully? These are some of the pleasure-supportive practices I’ve used on myself and with clients. Some of them require more time and per- sistence, others are quick and simple and can be easily incorporated into a normal day. Release Blocks to Pleasure Shawna came to me to work on her “anger issues”. Her husband and coworkers had been asking her to soften her tone and “be more positive”. She described himself as a “nice person” and felt bad about her “crabbiness”. As we talked about Shawna’s outbursts of frustration, it became increasingly obvious she was mentally and emotionally exhausted. “I never do anything for fun, except zonk out in front of TV at night. It feels like my parents’ house all over again — all work and housework and responsibility”. However, when Shawna tried to “put something fun on her calendar”, she felt tense and vaguely anxious. Underneath her anxiety, we discovered a massive layer of “anti-pleasure” condi- tioning. As we looked at some of her thoughts, beliefs and “mini-traumas” related to pleasure, Shawna was able to include small indulgences into her schedule. She brought a tiny “succulent garden” for her desk at work, ate lunch outside on warm days, and snuggled against her hus-

band when they watched their favorite shows. Not only did Shawna’s days become more enjoyable, her demeanor softened. Her husband no longer felt like he was walking on eggshells around her; and several of her coworkers started joining her for lunch outside, instead of eating hurriedly at their desks. If you, like most of us, carry a lot of “anti-pleasure” conditioning, try meditation, psychotherapy, journaling, or expressive movement to identify and release your blocks. My favorite is EFT/tapping — root - ed in acupressure, this mind/body technique can clear guilt, tension or fear quickly and effectively. Tapping can also be used to amplify pleasure. Observe Your Pleasures Walking in nature is, by far, my favorite mindfulness practice. In the fall, I walk in the patch of woods behind my house, absorbing the vivid colors of autumn, inhaling the heady scent of freshly fallen leaves. In spring, I walk and take in the air’s freshness and enjoy the budding flowers. Colors, sounds, skin sensations relax and refresh my energy, even if I started out my nature walk feeling tense or grumpy. Whenever you are doing something enjoyable, take a moment to register your experience. Noticing a pleasing sensation lets your brain know it’s important and helps your neural self recognize and create enjoyable experiences more easily. Prolong Your Pleasures (the 12 seconds rule) Our nervous systems are wired to watch out for danger. That’s why

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