Full Body Laughter

When was the last time you laughed? Truly? A truthful laugh that warmed your stomach and filled your chest, that bubbled up and out into the world like you tripped through a portal for a split second? With everything happening in today's world, laughter may be the last thing on your mind. It might be so distant from your reality that you’d rather sweat it out in the gym, sleep forever, or even teach class after class looking forward to a piece of time without the suspected naivety of humor. What could possibly be funny?

Well…yoga can be funny. There, I said it. In all its intentionality and mindfulness, yoga has its moments. I used to suppress the urge to giggle when I accidentally lost my balance or snored myself awake in savasana (more times than I care to mention). I wanted to avoid misunderstandings if someone thought I was making a cruel joke, or even worse; that somehow I was not taking Yoga or myself seriously! Time passed, my world and practice expanded and so did my appreciation for these moments. 

Finding humor, silliness, and joy isn’t just a matter of looking in the right places or blocking off certain elements of life. Just like the satisfaction of staying active, or a good downward-facing dog, choosing to seek joy is a practice that is ongoing and complex. In the spaces we create with every class contain discipline, focus, balance, mindfulness, and listening. Could there be space for practicing the availability to laugh as well? I say why not?

But what is laughter? 

There is a lot to talk about regarding the health benefits of laughter, endorphins, hormones, circulation, stress relief, etc. With all that information, the pressure to laugh can be awkward. I’ve been in a handful of classes with the “fake it til you make it” approach, some more successful than others. If you are not completely confident with facilitating such an exercise, then forcing things to be funny is a risky move. The sound of laughter belongs to a larger landscape of total body and brain sensations beyond audibility. Perhaps we seek that totality of that feeling over a hollow chuckle. 

With an expanded understanding of laughter, remaining honest with yourself while searching for it is difficult. No quick tips or tricks are guaranteed to help find that joy and humor, but there are a few things that might help you prepare yourself for welcoming it when you do


Allowing yourself the time and space to clear your mind and refresh your body can invite an openness in yourself and an availability to be filled with joy. 

Park your ego and be yourself

The practice of not taking things personally. Turning the focus toward “their practice” instead of “my instruction” encourages openness and graciousness with yourself and others. For me, this makes space for my personality by alleviating the pressure I feel to be the perfect instructor. 

Sequencing with playfulness

You don’t have to teach Goat Yoga to have fun! Setting the space as one where failure and success go out the window is a great foundation to offer small opportunities for playfulness. With the invitation to try something out for the first time (safely) comes the invitation to falter as well. Some playful transitions I’ve come to love:

Boat and half boat - a core workout that can be a pain in the butt, I love to cue a smile or some distracting arm movements during a navasana to de-stress the mind. 

Half Lord of the Fishes pose - after one side standing up turning 360 degrees while your feet stay in place to find yourself in the same pose on the other side. 

Arm balances with props - cueing arm balances for mixed-level yogis is a great opportunity to remind people that taking a little fall and learning how to safely is all part of the practice of being kind and playful with yourself. 

Remember to give yourself adequate preparation for cueing a more playful and less familiar sequence to ensure the safety of your yogis.

Start with a smile

A cheesy reminder, I know. Facilitating a smile is a lot more approachable than facilitating a laugh. Reminding yogis about smiling through a boat, dancer, or chair pose can be an easy way of reassuring them that it is ok to be silly and ok to be focused at the same time. 


Being present in each class

You may be at a point in your teaching when even if your mind checks out, your voice can continue teaching with no problem. Staying available for the yogis in the room and for yourself is a way to be honest with the present and enjoy what surprises that may come along. Even adding a casual remark of recognition when a siren interrupts your meditation or you yourself lose your balance for a second can be a source of connection for the entire class. 

With all of this in mind, we can’t forget the sheer subjectivity of what it is to express joy and laughter. I’ve waited this long to tell you, dear reader, that I happen to be a comedy performer. People in the studio are often surprised to learn about that. People who see me perform are surprised and even amused to hear that I am a yoga teacher. Why does one have to be either a serious person or a silly person? What we offer as a creator or space and facilitator of practice is an open invitation to practice seeking joy, an invitation that can be received in so many ways. I’m not saying that teaching yoga is a performance, but if there’s anything that the comedy scene has taught me from performing for so many different audiences; it's that people may not laugh when they are amused, they may not even smile… and that’s ok. 




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Ashley Willison
Ash Willison is an international yoga teacher and multi-media artist. For Ash, connection to the body is at the very root of all her adventures and skills. Yoga has been her loyal companion ever since growing up in Uganda, and continues to inspire and challenge wherever she goes and whatever she does. Off the mat, she is a multi-media artist, writer, and physical performer with a love for sci-fi and puns.

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