By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Everyone has heard that old adage about taking less muscles to smile than it does to frown, and how laughter is the best medicine. A 2009 study, by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center, even found that laughter, and an active sense of humor, may help protect against a heart attack. Incorporating a sense of humor, into your Yoga practice, just makes sense.
Keeping a sense of humor during asanas can help guard against injury – if it is no longer fun, and it feels like an effort to “push through,” damage to the body is much more likely. Laughing makes both the mind and the body loosen up, and endorphins released during laughter can enhance the uplifting feelings in Yoga.
For Yoga instructors, maintaining a lighthearted atmosphere can allow students to ask for assistance when needed, and encourage new students to return to class. Many Yoga novices complain of the seriousness, and even self-righteousness, of some senior practitioners, who behave as if cracking a smile demeans their discipline. Far from diminishing one’s Yoga practice, a good laugh can improve the mind and body connection. As Buddha said, “When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.”
A style of Yoga called, Laughter Yoga, was developed by Dr. Kataria, and his wife, Madhuri in 1995 – combining laughter exercises with Yoga breathing. These exercises deliver more oxygen to the body and brain, enhancing energetic, healthy feelings.
Dr. William Fry, professor emeritus at the Stanford University School of Medicine, notes that “studies indicate – participating in laughter therapy is beneficial in terms of disease control.” Laughter Yoga is now practiced internationally, led by volunteers in clubs. A typical session starts with gentle warm-up exercises like stretching, chanting, body movement, and clapping.
Childlike playfulness is the goal, with the breakdown of inhibitions. Breathing exercises prepare the lungs for laughter, followed by a series of ‘laughter exercises.’ Laughter exercises are then interspersed with breathing exercises, for a full session about 20 minutes long.
To reap the benefits of an upbeat attitude, try to let go of pre-conceived notions about how you must act, or appear, while practicing Yoga. Worries about whether others are judging your performance, feelings of instability in poses, and competitive feelings can all hold back flow during practice. Imaging the worst happening, such as falling over and splitting your pants, and then laughing at the image can help relaxation and mental release.
Remember the question: How many Yoga teachers does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Only one – but he or she will need a sticky mat, a backless chair, five blankets, a bolster, six ropes, two belts, six assorted benches, three blocks, and a certificate.
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