I’ve become a bit of a yoga junkie. Even when I felt lousy on Friday afternoon, in the throes of an oncoming cold, I found the will to go to the Y and settle into a Hot Yoga class before turning in for the evening. I actually made it to a yoga class five days in a row last week. After being huddled over books or a computer screen hours on end, good, deep stretching makes a WORLD of difference. I’m not especially good at yoga. I’ve never been flexible. Remember those flexibility tests administered in elementary P.E. classes? I always had a negative score on them. It is only in the past few years that I’ve become able to touch my toes (on occasion). I did some prayerful stretching during my last year of ministry in my first call. And I did prenatal yoga with a d.v.d. throughout much of second (and third?) trimesters. But a class? No thank you. Wasn’t interested. Now I can’t get enough.
And I’ve been thinking that yoga practice is good for me, in part, because it is something that doesn’t come naturally or easily; it is a practice that reminds me of my weaknesses or limitations. BUT it is also a practice, through the gentle nudging of the teachers, that invites me to be present to myself/my body wherever it might be at any given moment, and to be non-judgmental of my self. One of the teachers I’ve had over the last several months (and there have been many, lots of turn over!) began classes by inviting us to set an intention of gratitude because when our hearts are grateful, it is hard for them to be anything else. And I think it was the same teacher who would invite us to go out into the world after the class trying not to judge ourselves or others for half an hour or ten minutes or even five. Wow. Hard charge.
Our pastor, fan of hard charges, charged everyone in the congregation to identify three things in our lives that need to die so that we might share in Christ’s resurrection. I struggled, for awhile, to get concrete about my “kill list.” But in responding to another charge to take an hour of prayer with a particular passage of scripture I arrived at my three things: 1) judgment- of self especially, but also of others; 2) anxiety- which I realized often has its roots in judgment; and 3) resentment- again, rooted in judgment. Number one… it is crucial! It has to go! Not that I want to cease to be able to make critical assessments of myself and others, but the over active voice of self-criticism and condemnation, that’s not constructive! It’s not healthy! It is not bringing life! And when I spend so much time (internally) talking to myself like this, surely it shapes the way I think about others (though I seriously don’t think I’m as harsh on others as I am on myself, but… I can be judgmental of others. I confess it.) If this distorted and destructive judgment mechanism could just die… I truly believe I would experience resurrection in my life.
So… yoga… where I try to do things I don’t think I can do all the time, in spite of that voice that says “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!” (Sometimes I don’t try… but more often I do!) And where I accept gentle correction on my postures. And where I quiet my mind more effectively than I do in any other practice. This is, I think, a good practice on my journey to new life.
But laughter yoga? There have been signs up at the Y the past several weeks announcing a new laughter yoga class. The teacher for that class came to a Zumba class (speaking of another good practice that has the same result- not a quiet mind, but I definitely have to get over myself and shut up my inner critic to do it!) a few weeks ago and told us about it. I figured, “Hey, I’m sure I don’t laugh enough, and as I’ll be buried in a library basement for most of the summer, deep belly laughs are probably going to be few and far between, this could be good for me.”
So I went this past Thursday at 5:30. At 5:30 I was the only student there with a rather… intense… teacher. I thought “Oh, dear. This is going to be awkward and uncomfortable.” A few more people showed up and then the teacher informed us we wouldn’t need our mats and encouraged us to stand in a circle. She explained all the health benefits of laughter combined with gentle stretching, and the fact that our bodies can’t tell the difference between real and fake laughter. She talked of the origins of the practice in Japan and of the fabulous laughter club in Laguna Beach, California (whose t-shirt she was sporting) where a HUGE group practices on the beach every morning. There was quite a bit of chatter to begin with… off putting… I’d rather just get into it. But it is a new thing, so… perhaps this is good. She explained that we would do various laughter exercises and then when they were complete (indicated by everyone having made eye contact with everyone else at least once) we’d swing down and clap our hands between our legs saying “Very Good! Very Good!” and then swing our hands over our hands saying “Yay!” Um… sounded like preschool. Oh well, I was there… I gave it a whirl.
The exercises were silly- telling the funniest story ever in total jibberish, consuming and throwing imaginary laughter pills at one another, operatic laughing, etc. It reminded me of drama exercises, which I enjoyed back in the day. But I didn’t know these women. And I felt silly. And wondered if I was being judged. And in fact was judging myself and others around me. It would be less awkward, perhaps, with more participants, but… it was awkward. BUT… I think this means I need to stick with it, for at least a few more weeks, because if I want to die to judgment… this is a good place to practice.
Maybe resurrection will take the shape of forced laughter becoming free and genuine.