There are some serious health benefits of yoga, but that doesn’t mean you need to take it so seriously — in fact, a little bit of humor can make it even more beneficial.
When you begin your yoga journey, one of the first things you’ll discover is that it comes in many flavors. Finding the one that resonates with you is like choosing what flavor ice cream to eat or what topping to put on your pizza — it’s not about right or wrong, but just what works for you.
But among the many choices (style, online vs. in-person, quiet or energetic) have you considered the role of humor?
How does humor fit into a practice that many consider to be serious and sacred?
The Benefits of Yoga
Perhaps part of the reason that people treat yoga so seriously is because of its clear health benefits. Johns Hopkins reports that yoga:
- Improves strength, balance and flexibility
- Helps with back pain relief
- Can ease arthritis symptoms
- Benefits heart health
- Relaxes you to help you sleep better
- Can mean more energy and brighter moods
- Helps you manage stress
It’s no wonder then, especially during this pandemic with people feeling extra stress, confined, and a loss of community, that online yoga has grown substantially. The United Nations even reported that yoga has been “a powerful tool to deal with the lockdown’s uncertainty and isolation, as well as to maintain physical well-being.”
Making Room for Humor on the Mat
But do these serious benefits mean that yoga needs to be serious all the time?
Not at all.
In fact, not only can playfulness make yoga even more enjoyable, it can extend its health benefits even further. As Laura Araujo, founder of The MAPS Institute, explains in a recent article, “Play helps build connections of neurons in the pre-frontal cortex…the decision-making part of our brains. When we don’t experience enough play, we become stressed, depressed, over-serious.” Play actually releases endorphins, which helps to reduce pain and increase pleasure.
Perhaps my favorite way to think about it — and one of my favorite quotes to share when teaching yoga — comes from Thich Nhat Hanh. He says simply, “Smiling is a kind of mouth yoga.”
Just hearing that quote makes me smile and brings to mind the compiled video of the Dalai Lama laughing as a reminder of the importance of humor.
I share this with my students to let them know that it is ok to smile and have fun during our time together. Yoga doesn’t have to be so serious all the time!
Sometimes I will tell them to turn the corners of their mouths up to the sky and see what happens. When they do as I have asked, they realize they are smiling and often start laughing.
Breaking down this perceived barrier between the seriousness of yoga and laughter is critical. As Anne Lamott says, “Laughter is carbonated holiness.” What a happy bubblicious image!
Once you break through this barrier, isn’t it logical that laughter would be an asset in anyone’s yoga practice?
Extending the Benefits of Yoga Through Laughter
Thankfully, the wall is starting to crumble.
Dr. Madan Kataria explains that “laughing yoga will help lift your mood, reduce stress, strengthen your immune system, increase energy levels, improve your quality of life, and help you better manage hardship.” He believes that stress can be reduced by laughing on cue, promoting both a sense of positivity, as well as a sense of optimism.
There will always be students who want — and teachers that offer — beautifully serene and serious yoga classes. This type of yoga is immensely valuable and can be positively life changing.
But you should also consider making room for some humor in your yoga practice and see what happens.
For instance, when I have my students in chair pose (utkatasana), a challenging position to hold, I amuse and distract them with my famous chair pose trivia.
This diversion might include quotes from a Dove chocolate wrapper, a fortune from a fortune cookie, a funny news item, silly Shakespearean compliments, or jokes and riddles. They’re mostly terrible, but they evoke laughter and thumbs up from the smiling students on the Zoom screen.
So, can there also be space for smiles, laughter, and humor in your yoga practice? I believe there can and should be.
I suggest you close your eyes right now, turn the corners of your mouth up, do some mouth yoga, and see how good you feel! You may discover that laughter is the best pranayama of all.