In the season of the New Year/New You, yoga classes are packed with nervous first timers side-by-side with disciplined practitioners. It’s a time where the energy can easily slip into a somber, serious mix of “what am I doing” with “here is what you are supposed to do.” When the tone of yoga class shifts into one of seriousness and gravity, many teachers work harder to share the lightness of the practice. Hatha yoga is balance between the weightiness of discipline and the lightness of expansion, after all the ultimate goal of all this work is to “enlighten.” The important component of deep inner contemplation should not be under valued, but when that is the exclusive approach, many can get bogged down in the heaviness of the philosophy and the physical challenge of the practice, and forget that our inherent nature is joy. But as the New York times reports, many yoga teachers are making humor and lightness a necessary part of the experience.
For years, I attended to my practice in class and in private with a gravity that rivaled that of benediction monks. Never smile, never laugh just breathe and concentrate. Many yoga students, novice and seasoned alike, fall into the negative connotations of yoga as a discipline and loose sight of the space of grace that grows out of the breath and the work. This space that we are called “to sit with” in our yoga asana practice is one which uncovers lightness and joy in the midst of serious work. And we are shown over and over again that when we “practice” finding the joy and lightness in the challenge of asana, it makes it easier to find it in the challenges of life.
Any and all spiritual practices are meant to lead us to the experience of bliss, unbounded joy and infinite happiness. Sure, there are moments in our lives and our practice when we should be serious and solemn, but our lives in this human vessel are growing increasingly morose and heavy. We are faced with challenges and problems that are at times incomprehensible, so should we come to our mats to increase our heaviness, or to learn how to use our human condition to lift us closer to our spiritual bliss?
In some ways, the weight of the world is a gift. It keeps our heads out of the clouds and our feet planted firmly on the ground. It keeps us clear about the work that needs to be done. But, when the weight of the world becomes overwhelming, we seek to lighten our load. During stressful times in the past, many turned to the numbing activities like alcohol, drugs, and mindless hours of television viewing to ease their burdens and quiet their worries, but in this moment of “crisis”, huge numbers are turning in the opposite direction and finding their way to the yoga mat and the meditation cushion. Yoga, in all its forms, teaches us not to take ourselves so seriously. We are a drop in the ocean of existence, and our greatest contribution to this sea is our joy.
So when we muster up a smile on our lips during chair pose, or laugh out loud in the transition from chaturanga dandasana to urdhva mukha svanasana, then we strengthen our muscles of lightness, we learn to be more flexible in times of challenge. Maybe your yoga teacher has his or her own way to bring this sense of ease into your classes, through music, mantra, humor, or simply their presence lightens the space. Whatever the means, the end is all the same; a sense of liberation, of freedom from the heaviness of our humanness and an opening into the grace of our spirit.