“Don’t be serious, be sincere” is a comment many times uttered by my teacher, Sri O. P. Tiwari. To me this cuts to the heart of the matter. Getting serious darkens the mood and heavies the process. Throwing that away just to play loses its benefit. So be light and open but keep yourself fully involved and committed to the process.
Do we have to create the fun or does it arise spontaneously? To be non-attached yet committed can leave you with a feeling of lightness. As a result a joy should arise. It is easy to enjoy, play with and have fun with what you’re doing but not at the expense of its integrity.
Too often we’re attached to doing the best pose or getting a new pose. We want something to happen. When it doesn’t, which under these circumstances is inevitable, we are disappointed. Suddenly it’s become all too serious. And it is self-inflicted. But to be free of the outcome is the heart of yoga. There is going to be an outcome anyway. We can’t ultimately control it so we should just do our best. Stay light but never stop putting in your best effort.
Then again practice and many yoga classes can get turned into a big play game which is fun for the moment but bypasses the subtle elements, especially if the integrity has been compromised. It should never be torture, which is determined by your attitude, but never throw it away for mere frivolity and entertainment.
The balance is quite a tricky area to find. Maturity is required, especially by a teacher to hold a class that is enjoyable, fun and entertaining as well as tuned into the subtle points and guiding the student internally. One way is to play with or have fun with a few of the asanas at a point in class. Everyone laughing and enjoying it. Then let it wind down to a more internal practice.
I have found yoga helps me lose self-consciousness. To be able to laugh at yourself is a major step. You just tried an asana and it collapsed. You fell on your face. Have a laugh. Who cares. No need for embarrassment or self-scolding. But do get up and try again. When you laugh all the muscles of the body lighten up, tension decreases. It will help you practice.
So laugh at yourself along the way, don’t take yourself too serious, be light but committed, accept the outcome, be free. But at the same time be fully committed. Yoga done properly, not for mere sensual stimulation, brings an inner joy, beyond mere play and surface fun level. It is a deeper sense of joy. It comes because you are fully committed to it. But you got to laugh along the way.
In a nutshell, vairagya, the practice of non-dependence or non-attachment, should automatically result in joy and fun in what you are doing. Now you are not dependent on the outcome for you to be happy. The process itself fulfils. The result a bonus. Even if it fails it means try again. The more attached you are to having it be a certain way or getting something out of it the darker it becomes and the fun disappears.
Patanjali offers a classic “cure” to such an ailment in “pratipaksha bhavanam”. If ever you find yourself getting serious, the mind getting dark, then apply the opposite, is its essence. You can apply it here. If you notice yourself serious and attached to how you want your practice in yoga to turn out, or anything in life, then twist it. Ask “what’s the worst case scenario?, what would happen if it doesn’t work out?” Free yourself from that outcome and enjoy what you’re doing. And the real beauty of yoga is you don’t need your senses to be titillated to enjoy it all or have fun. Just being in it is a unique fun in and of itself.
Go on, have a laugh!
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Photo credit: Yoga Silhouette, Happy Yoga
Paul is a senior teacher of Pranayama, Asana and the meditative art and science of Yoga. He has been a dedicated student for over a decade of both Sri O.P.Tiwari, one of the few remaining classical yogis and masters of Pranayama, and the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in ashtanga vinyasa. Both of these great teachers have personallycertified Paul in these practices, a unique position as the only one to receive this double honor. One of his main gifts is to be able to relate the teachings in a very down-to-earth way for the modern seeker. He does not take life or yoga too seriously and as a result the discussions and philosophical sessions are lively and humorous, helping to explain the meaning behind the practices and philosophy. For more please see his full bio. Paul is the founder and director of Samahita Yoga Thailand, a premier retreat center in Asia, and Centered Yoga, a leading yoga training school since 1999.