A couple of years ago I had a friend, who was also a yoga studio owner, visit me. We were at my studio prior to class and she looked at the gathering crowd of students and said, “what do you do about them?”. I replied, “what do you mean?”. She said, “well, when my students talk too much prior to class I ring a gong.” I couldn’t believe it. I looked around my studio and it was sort of like a cocktail party….it was loud, lots of talking and laughing, music playing, lots of smiling faces. There was no way in hell would ever ring a gong! When I asked her why she would want to do that, she said something about the studio being a sacred space and that people needed quiet time.
I believe sacred space is shared between two or more human beings and that yoga is the “cessation of the fluctuations of the mind stuff”. What better way to practice getting out of our own mind stuff than by connecting and laughing with others?
I actually believe that laugher is a built-in motor reflex protection mechanism, a mechanism that takes us out of ourselves. Just think about it, when you are laughing, what else are you able to do? You aren’t capable of much else. You sure aren’t worrying about that 10 lbs you need to lose or your over due taxes or how much you hate your job. Laughing is a total experience of the present moment that involves 15 facial muscles and specific breathing patterns. Isn’t this spirituality at its essence? The experience of our authenticity?
With its facial twisting, gut wrenching, thigh slapping, belly squeezing effect, laughter is a huge release of tension on all bodily levels. We are born knowing how to do it…infants start laughing as early as 4-5 weeks. And then they laugh at everything! Talk about blissful, spiritual beings. Somewhere down the road, we adults forget to laugh so much, especially at ourselves.
Laughter is our expression when we are shaken out of our mundane mental habits. Something completely unexpected and spontaneous happens and we burst into noises and gyrations that sound like something off of Animal Kingdom! Laughter truly takes us back to our roots!
Laughter is shown to increase the levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that supports the feeling of reward and pleasure. Laughter decreases the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, supporting a healthier immune system. The shaking and exercise effect that laughter has on our chest is even shown to support the health of our heart and it’s blood vessels, decreasing the risk of heart attack. William Fry, a pioneer in the study of laughter, claimed that it took a man 10 minutes on a rowing machine to get his heart rate to match that of a strong belly laugh!
You better believe that the “cocktail party” environment of connection and laughter carries out through the classes at our studio. Sure we are into ujayii breath, focus, silence and space, sweat and intensity…but we have an unwritten agreement that laughter is not only accepted, it is held sacredly.
If you haven’t yet, practice a light-hearted attitude next time you are at yoga, maybe let a smile in and who knows, maybe even a big ol’ belly laugh. You will love your practice even more. AND you might sleep better at night.