Ditch the seriousness, and practice joy with a little help from yoga.
Sometimes I feel like a stand-up comedian. Not that I’m as funny as you’d need to be to crush it in front of a large crowd, but the impetus to make people laugh is just as strong. I have my standard little patter when teaching a beginner yoga class, and I always have my classes laughing, from the first minute in.
This is very deliberate.
So often in a yoga class, I’ll look around and every single person has the most strained, serious, scowling face. Many times I’ll hear a teacher say, “smile,’”and everyone will smile for a second, as if it is another yoga pose they’re being directed to, and then instantly go back to “serious yoga.”
I feel it on myself sometimes, when I’m deep in practice. All of the sudden, I’ll tune in to my face and I can feel all the muscles in my jaw, tense and tight, my brow furrowed, my lips pressed together, as if perhaps my serious demeanor will help me balance better in king dancer, or keep me stable in malasana.
Why do we take our practices so seriously?
One of the things I’m always aspiring to in my yoga practice is to bring more joy to my life. But if I’m not practicing joy, it seems like a big stretch that I’m going to actually have joy. Isn’t the point of yoga to practice things on your mat and then take those practices into your life? I practice releasing stress; I practice being in the moment, balancing my breath, balancing my body. And I can see how each of these directly translates into my life. So, what about joy?
Summer is the season of joy. In the Chinese Five Element Theory, summer—the element of fire—holds the emotions of anxiety, which is balanced and transformed by inspiration and joy.
So, how do you access this emotion?
There are a couple things I really like to do.
- Build in an unstructured practice. Once a week, go completely “off-book” from your general practice. Do something totally different and FUN! Turn on some music and dance around your living room. Take off your shoes and go for a barefoot hike. Bring your yoga blanket outside and practice on the grass or the sand. Let your creativity flow, follow your intuition and get out of your own way! Anything you do can become a habit, and we sometimes get into ruts—even with our good habits like exercising and yoga. But if we start to look at our self-care routine as a habit and a task to be crossed off the list, we can lose the joy and inspiration that will keep us fit for the rest of our lives. So, break out of your routine, and experience some real joy in your practice again!
- There is a point on the center of your forehead, between your eyebrows, that is for “tapping in joy.” Whenever you have an experience that is fun, joyous, enlightening, awe-inspiring—lightly tap that point. This imprints it in the limbic system of the brain. Then, when you’re feeling uninspired, you can tap that same point again to release the joy that is already stored in your nervous system, and you’ll feel great!
- One of the things that can happen very easily during summer is a feeling of being overwhelmed. There is so much to do, so much to see, everyone is on vacation and the days last forever. Instead of feeling joyful, we can also start to feel overwhelmed. Here is an easy practice to bring that out-of-control feeling back into control, helping the wildfires raging in your mind contain into a gentle, slow-burning flame. This flame will light the fire of inspiration in you!
Bringing Down the Flame
(Adapted from “The Energy Medicine Yoga Prescription,” out September 1 from Sounds True: Pre-order here.)
- Begin standing. Inhale and sweep your hands up overhead, and when they meet overhead, tent your hands together so all your fingers and thumbs are touching. Exhale with a haaaaa sound and bring your thumbs to the top of your head, the center of the crown chakra.
- Release your hands from the crown and sweep them out and up again to meet above your head on an inhale. Exhale with the sound haaaaa and bring your tented hands together with your thumbs touching between your eyebrows at your third eye.
- Release your hands and inhale, sweeping them out and up above your head to meet again. Tent your hands, exhale haaaaa, and bring your thumbs to your heart center.
- Inhale, sweep your arms up again, tent your hands and bring your thumbs to your navel. Exhale haaaaa. This is where the fire wants to be seated, in your navel center.
- Keep your thumbs here as you inhale and bring your pinky fingers to rest on your pubic bone. Exhale haaaaa and flatten your hands onto your low belly, keeping your index fingers and thumbs connected.
- Inhale and smooth your hands down your legs, then down and off your feet, shaking them off in front of you. Exhale with the haaaaa sound, and rise back up to standing. In these poses, you are reeducating the information from your fields into the wisdom of the chakra centers.
Photo credit (top to bottom): miyaa227, Thinkstock; Michael Myers