Laughter & the Yoga of Travel

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by Christine Ka’aloa
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Living in Manhattan is electric! My favorite deli is across the street and if its not my favorite today, then I can find my “next best” a block further away. Central Park (for me) is only a 10 minute walk. Everything from a manicure, favorite restaurants, stores, theaters, 5th Avenue, Soho, Wall Street are all at my fingertips and but a 5-15 minute subway ride radius…if you’re a Manhattanite!  While there’s a convenience to living in the world’s central buzz, there can also be daily imbalance in your lifestyle when you’re surrounded with this kind of wattage 24/7! The noise,  panhandlers camped out in the subways,  ambitious skyscrapers blocking your view of the sky, morning crowds race-walking to work like zombies pushing and shoving …and the endless treadmill “to do lists”!  Whew! On some days, I feel like i’m a swollen head of run-on thoughts. On other days, I’m a robotic body set on autopilot to react on commands like “push“, “dodge“,” protect“, “defend“, “fight“, “go“. A top can’t spin properly without a heart center and sometimes, that’s the one missing facet in a day that ties it all together.

Whenever I feel I am getting too lop-sided or wobbly, I return to my yoga practice for restorative maintenance and well-integrated wholeness.  Jivamukti Yoga at Union Square offers me great ashtanga-based heart pumping action at $15/class. It is a chic NYC  boutique yoga studio with fairly radical practices. A haven which aspires towards vegan/vegetarian and yogic lifestyles- it smells of everything green, earthy, serene and tri-bodily (spirit-mind-body) healthy! Pleasant incensed scents and gentle aromas of delectable foods from the cafe tone the halls which sound of chanted Oms.  This month’s focus at the studio: Laughter as Yogic Practice,  a perfect focus for me to right myself and to share with you as a topic on the art of  traveling.

Laughter is good medicine. We spend so much time recycling the same thoughts each day such that this subtext almost becomes a mantra that we set the pattern of our lives to.  Feelings of lack, negative self-images, stress, self-doubt, worry, fear…it becomes engrained in our bodies because we feed so much energy into convincing ourselves that these perceptions are true and real.  Laughter expels this barrier by jogging our hearts with a very physical experience of living joy in the present.

In 6:45P yoga class, we were going through our asanas quite seriously as the teacher spoke about the power of laughter. For myself, some postures hold ease, others hold EXTRA DETERMINATION.  Launching from the pose we were in, our teacher cries out the command for a “Standing Split”!

Ugh.

My body groaned, my thoughts set into mental whining… yet I knew I couldn’t be alone. This posture of doing a one-legged standing balance while the other leg extends upward into a vertical split is not a fun posture to those who can barely get their legs to form an “L”! (mine is droopily imperfect) As the command for standing split went out, I heard a hearty and nervous male laugh from the back of the class.  It was the equivalent of a groan turned backwards into the sentiment of “Laugh , son, even when you feel like crying!” The entire class bursts into an uproar (we were all together on this sentiment ) and magically, the mental difficulty and physical torture was replaced with joyful giggles rippling throughout my body. Even more magically, the elation carried me through several more challenging poses.

Humor can be hard to find in difficult situations. When traveling- in our own cities, lives or a foreign country- if we don’t seek out the humor that presents itself in daily life or crucial situations, we wind up missing a big part of the joy that comes in experiencing each new adventure.  Unless you’re on an expensive luxury tour,  experiencing “foreign” should feel uncomfortable and a bit challenging. As a traveler in a new land, EXPECT to feel vulnerable. You will  encounter obstacles, struggles and very real bouts of self doubt and/or fear. For some of us, its a language barrier that keeps us from understanding which metro ticket to purchase to where we want to go; for others, it is getting scammed by a local or maybe even being stranded and alone in a place whose customs and traditions we know nothing about.  When this happens that funny bone goes numb , our body tenses and tightens, our drama level shoots through the roof and we forget that THIS is part of the traveling experience we sought -albeit, didn’t PLAN- when we left the comfortable arm chair recliners of our home.

1) Try to find the humor in the situation. It IS there and the potential to laugh almost always exists in some form- even amidst fear, frustration, exasperation, etc… It can exist in the darkest of hours. If nothing else, at least you’ve got some really fun horror stories to tell your family and friends when you get home!

For me, even as I stood shocked and astonished at how some chicken-legged Varanasi rickshaw driver left me stranded in a nowhere neighborhood out of spite for having haggled him down to a local price, a part of me had to laugh. There I was in a panic-  “OMG- this can’t be happening to ME! I’m lost and  so screwed- how will I find my hotel!?” At the same time, I was also  thinking… “I can’t WAIT to tell my friends what happened!…That creep is a [email protected]#!ing genius!  If I could peddle  tourists to random places and get paid, I’d make a killing; afterall, how would a tourist know?!…

Humor exists. It’s not always “funny ha-ha”, but its there.

2) Fake it til you make it and just LAUGH!…chuckle to yourself silently or go ballistic like some crazy person and your fears and worries will dissipate. Try it. If you can convince yourself that hypothetically negative things can go wrong on your trip, then you can lie to yourself into thinking your laughter is REAL. If you just start, it will be!

Since my yoga class, i’ve been applying laughter to a lot of things outside of my yoga practice. When a specific worry or concern arises…I chuckle falsely. Yet somehow my heart pumps laughter into my system and erases all the negatives that need not be. The worries and stress fall away and I am left feeling free to enjoy the rest of my day.

Jivamukti Yoga Center
841 Broadway, 2nd Floor
212.353.0214
www.jivamuktiyoga.com

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