Sometimes You Just Gotta Laugh
Do you ever laugh during your Ashtanga practice? Have you ever laughed in a led class? I do, all the time. I’ve even laughed out loud a few times while practicing with Sharath Jois!
Ashtanga yoga is hard. It’s a serious practice. It requires work and discipline. You’ll think about quitting many times throughout your life. Frustration will occur. Feelings of resentment will arise when a posture seems unattainable. Occasionally you’ll fall on your face in front of your teacher and a class full of students and feel embarrassed. Your muscles will get sore. You’ll be stuck on a posture for YEARS, without any hope of advancement. Sometimes you’ll even cry. And sometimes you’ll laugh.
At the beginning of my relationship with Mysore style Ashtanga, I took everything very seriously. I never smiled during my practice. I was intensely focused, wanting to do everything right. I never looked around a classroom. I didn’t allow myself any moments of pause. I somehow convinced myself that if I was actually enjoying my time on the yoga mat, I wasn’t working hard enough.
On my first trip to Miami to work with my teacher Tim, I was in shoulder stand and Tim came over and tickled my feet. Naturally, I burst out laughing. It felt strange to laugh in a Mysore room, so I caught myself and immediately got serious again. The next day while attempting Marichyasana D, Tim started making funny faces at me from across the room. This time, while laughing, I realized what was going on… I was taking shit waaaaaaaay too seriously! This moment of laughter during intense practice made me relax, and therefore made the posture just a little bit easier. Right then and there, I decided to lighten up.
It’s hard to see yourself when practicing. Your teacher, however, sees most everything. These funny moments I’ve had with Tim during practice have forever changed me as a student. I’ve become less intense and more relaxed. I’ve learned how to laugh at my mistakes and accept the fact that I am just human. I no longer measure my practice with seriousness; I measure my practice with intention. How liberating!
These moments of laughter have also changed me as a teacher. I watch my students closely. Of course, there are many times where intensity and effort is needed. Frustration and tears can also be incredible learning mechanisms. Yet sometimes, when practice is getting a bit too heavy and lightness is needed, I’ll crack a joke. Or I’ll tell a short funny story. Maybe I’ll tickle someones feet or make a funny face. Sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine!
During a particularly hot and difficult class, one of my students fell over while trying to do Virabhadrasana A. I thought I was going to pee my pants laughing. She and I talk and chuckle about that moment to this day. One early morning Sunday class, the opening mantra sparked repeated giggle sessions. It took ten minutes for us to sing the mantra in its entirety. I don’t even know what we were laughing at! And of course the funniest of all was the one afternoon I had to teach a class after taking a double dose of Benadryl due to an extreme allergy attack… I can’t quite remember what came out of my mouth during that class, but according to my students Sam and Emily, it was epic and funny as hell.
My point: Take your practice seriously, work hard, give it your everything. Cry a little. Get pissed. Feel embarrassed. But also make sure to laugh and enjoy yourself. Relax. Breath. It’s just yoga.