(This was originally intended for publication in the NEPA Natural Awakening’s Magazine…and may well get there)
“You know, yoga is very serious business,” I say, looking out over my yoga class. Rows of serious faces strive to perfect the pose. Intent on all the little details, students seem gripped in a life or death battle over Warrior One.
“Now,” I quip, “I know that yoga is no laughing matter, and you wouldn’t want to have any fun here, but you might consider breathing. “ From the back of the room, someone catches the joke and giggles. Then another catches my grin, which begins circulating through the room. Suddenly there’s a new ease and lightness in each person’s pose.
Often, I watch my yoga students struggle to hold a pose. They stop breathing. I like to joke that it makes them very patriotic: “First the yogi turns red,” I say, shaking my head side to side. “Then the yogi turns blue. Then the yogi turns white and falls down—kaboom!” Eventually, someone laughs, even if they’ve heard me say it before.
If a yoga student is not breathing, he or she certainly isn’t laughing, nor probably having very much fun. It shows up as tight shoulders, clenched jaws, shallow breathing—all signs of stress. This kind of freeze and shut down response works incredibly well if you are a rabbit hiding from a circling hawk—it works less well if you are a human being looking to have a full and vibrant life.
Of course, life is very serious business, what with all the details—dogs to walk, dishes to do, children to wash, and bills to pay. Just like building all the details of a particular yoga posture, there are so many things to which to pay attention. It literally becomes a life or death battle to take care of the details that we turn into scared rabbits waiting for the hunt.
While the yoga mat is a perfect place to begin noticing these patterns of tension, constriction, and breathlessness, it’s the skills of breathing, relaxing, and feeling what is under all the busyness that we can choose to take into our lives. A little bit of humor doesn’t hurt either.
It’s more and more common knowledge that “laughter is the best medicine.” The relaxation, ease, lightness, and breath that I see in my yoga students when they take themselves less seriously, is precisely what the good doctors point out. Like we stretch out of our habitual movement patterns on the mat, we stretch out of our habitual relational patterns by lightening up. Habits are good, as long as they serve us—then they begin to take up our life force.
By exploring a lighter touch, giggling a bit at the absurd positions we put ourselves in time and again (be that a complicated yoga posture or a life posture), we relate to ourselves, each other, and our planet in a much more conscious and relaxed way. If that isn’t serious business, I don’t know what is.