Today I attended my first humorous yoga class, and it was amazing. I had heard great things about the teacher who was making a guest appearance at my studio, but I knew nothing about her, except that she was considered the “glitter queen”. Everyone knew when she had been in a room, because glitter lasts for weeks.
Have you ever tried to clean up glitter? It’s similar to cleaning up ground up Styrofoam. How would I know such a thing? I know because I coached two of my sons in an activity called Odyssey of the Mind (OM), in which a team of 7 students solve a lengthy problem, create a skit & costumes, build sets, and, as my teams did, solve a technical problem. It is an incredible program for students, primarily because they are required to solve the problem on their own. In doing so, they teach themselves how to Learn, which is an overlooked part of the curriculum in today’s schools. (FYI, students who have participated in OM go on to do some amazing things in life). As the coach, my sole purpose was to keep them focused, procure the supplies they requested, and clean up after them. They often requested Styrofoam, which, when broken, can become anything you want it to be, but also turns into tiny little balls of static. As you sweep it, pieces attach to your broom or dustpan, then they fly off as you attempt to dump them in the trash. Vacuuming is just as useless. The little balls stick to the vacuum hose. They appear to be laughing at you, mocking your efforts to capture them in your tidy, divisible vacuum bag. By my 3rd year of coaching I had purchased a foam burner to shape the foam without creating these little balls of hell. The burning did create noxious fumes, but my home was no longer filled with tiny little balls of Styrofoam!
All of which has nothing to do with this class, except that the one thing I knew about this teacher was that she began each class painting her students with glitter. As I watched her go from student to student, each readily exposing their chest and arms to her paint brush loaded with gold glitter, I internally debated the wisdom of partaking. I have serious lung issues, and I imagine that breathing in glitter is not great for them. Despite my concerns, as she approached and asked if I’d like glitter, my auto-pilot took over and I said “of course”. A few minutes later I did have a coughing fit, but it was totally worth it. I am still sparkling as I write this, and I feel luminous.
There were 2 things I didn’t know about this teacher. The first is that she is a trained opera singer. She opened the class with an Italian aria, and I found myself fraught with anxiety. I am not anti-opera; at least not in small doses. I understand the beauty and the skill involved, but I am not an avid fan. Opera leaves me with sensory over-load. I’ve never been to, or listened to, an entire opera, and I don’t think I ever will. (As I write this I realize I should put it on my anti-bucket list – the list of things I wish to never do in my life time!). There was no doubt that she is tremendously talented. Her range is amazing, her voice is strong and steady, she projected with total mastery, and her vibrato was beautiful. Honestly though, I was nervous. An hour and a half of opera was not what I thought I had signed up for. I wondered why no one had mentioned that this was an opera class; or had they and I was too busy cracking jokes to hear them?
Fortunately, she finished that song, which was beautiful and demonstrative of her very real talent, and the actual class started. With the start of the class, she turned into a comic. I don’t remember anything she said that was particularly funny, but the majority of us laughed through most of the class. It was like doing yoga with a stand up comic. It was amazing! If you are a yogi reading this, you know the feeling of a really great teacher. A really great teacher has you doing one legged Chaturanga’s with no hesitation. A really great teacher gets you into a split, at which point you look down and think “wait….. I can’t do that!”. A really great teacher helps you master Birds of Paradise, or the inversion you never though you’d do. And today, I took class with a great teacher.
I’ve been struggling with yoga in the past month. I’ve been having ongoing stomach pain, which seemed to worse after yoga. During my visit with my oncologist I mentioned this. He said that I was”NED” (no evidence of disease), my hernia repair was healed and he couldn’t feel another, and he felt nothing of concern in my abdomen. He advised that I work my abs to strengthen them, stating that this would alleviate the pain. With this advice I went into class with my favorite teacher, who happened to ask me what I wanted to do in class that day. I told her I needed to work my core, and she focused her class on this. We went from Sun Salutations to hand stands (against the wall) which, if you’ve never done, is all core work. I was taken aback by this. I’ve always thought core work required crunches and leg lefts, but by the time this class was over I could tell I had tapped into parts of my core that have been severely neglected. In my home space, I also began practicing this sequence, working through the pain as my Dr. had advised. I assumed there would come a day in which the pain would subside.
After 2 weeks, the pain was over-whelming. It was so bad that I lasted only 10 minutes in one of my favorite classes. I couldn’t lift my leg without wanting to cry. I left the class, spent the next hour on the studio sofa, then went to see my Primary Dr. As usually happens with me, tests have revealed nothing. I find myself in the perpetual holding pattern, circling my pain, waiting for the symptom that will define the issue and lead to a diagnosis. While I wait, I’ve taken it easy. I’ve done Slow Flow, Restorative and Gentle Yoga, and skipped my usual Vinyassa classes. The pain has subsided, but my body is craving the challenge of an intermediate Vinyassa class. I ventured back to them 2 weeks ago and have taken it slowly, spending more time in Child’s Pose then I normally would. The pain has lessened, and when I push myself the pain intensifies. It is frustrating, to say the least, but it also supports my Dr’s assertion that the issue is muscular, not cancer, as I always fear.
The point of which is to tell you that I have been taking it really easy in my classes, until today. The teacher’s comedy routine, vibrant spirit, and pulsating energy had me doing all of the things I’ve been avoiding the past few weeks. With no regrets. Will I regret it tomorrow? I don’t think so. Even if the pain rears it’s ugly head, I’ll look at it and laugh; laugh at the memory of the funniest yoga class I’ve ever attended.
I am curious about the lack of humor in yoga. I use humor all the time in life. I use it to alleviate the pain of an embarrassing situation, to divert attention at an awkward moment, or to speed up an otherwise unbearable event. It is an invaluable tool to me. I have used it a few times in classes, and I’ve been in a few classes in which teachers have joked when they got confused about which side we are to be working on, but for the most part, yoga is a serious activity. I appreciate that. I appreciate the serene class in which I can close my eyes and get in touch with my inner core. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I have learned more about myself, and my soul, in the practice of yoga then in any other endeavor. I feel more spiritual as a result of my yoga practice then I have at any other time in my life, including the years I spent teaching Sunday School to teens in church. Yoga has revealed to me my soul, and I am eternally grateful for that.
Here is my question: Does yoga need to be serious to achieve that goal? Would I have learned who I am, what I’m capable of, and what I value and love, had I spent all of my time in classes full of humor? Would I be as sure as I am today that we are all connected in some spiritual, electric energy field from which we came, and will eventually return? Would I believe in our connection as humans, and feel the sense that we are ultimately all one being?
Had you asked me before today I would have said that unfortunately, humor serves little purpose in a yoga class. Aside from alleviating the occasional humiliation of unwanted body sounds, yoga teachers should keep classes serene and focused, not funny. After today, though, I am a not as sure. In today’s class I never once questioned what the teacher asked me to do, because I was too busy laughing to notice what I had just done. Today I felt no embarrassment at holding onto the wall during tree pose, because the whole room was laughing at the visual she painted of our faces engaging our teeth, as if they could aid in our balance. Today, I felt a kinship with those in the room because we shared not just a class, but laughter. I had one of my best experiences ever in Savasana today, and I am fairly sure that it was because of the laughter. Our laughter broke through those barriers we put up; our laughter took away our self-consciousness; our laughter made us one in our unified, yet separate practice.
Would I want to laugh through all of my yoga classes? I don’t think so. As in all of life, I think there must be balance. I think both, though, are needed to create a full experience. And with every laugh today, I felt a part of myself open to the experience; a part that usually stays closed. I felt myself communing in a way that dissolved the boundaries between myself and my fellow yogis.
And now, as I write this, I think back to yesterday in which I spoke about the importance of boundaries, and I know……I’m still a work in process.