Silence as Yoga

I recently read, and would highly recommend, Silence as Yogaby Swami Paramananda. One of the themes that spoke to me the most was  how the practice of silence can lead to much more productive and fruitful action.  Out of silence emerges creative thought, focused energy, calm resolve. Often, when meditating, it feels frightening to let go of the mental noise, as though we cannot be productive without constantly adding to our mental list of tasks that need to be completed. Our energy becomes scattered as we try to hold everything in at once.

When the mind focuses on trying to hold on to worries and the other million things we have to do, we are unconsciously hiding a deeper emotional issue. Underlying stress and anxiety is a fear of letting go, a fear of surrender, ultimately, a fear of death. We are terrified that if we let go, everything will come apart and we will die. Anxiety and stress are coping mechanisms for fear of death.

Then, when we strip away another layer, we find another hidden assumption, and the root of our ego. The feeling that if we let go, everything will fall apart is akin to thinking that we are God. It is an illusion to imagine that through our minds we have real control over ourselves, our lives, and especially the entire world. This does not imply powerlessness or weakness at all. In fact, only once we recognize this can we connect to our true power. Many spiritual paths and religions assert the paradox that one must die to live. As Paramananda says, creativity, focus and energy comes out of silence. It may seem impossible that action and energy comes from silence.  Our ego, the surface level where our fear and anxiety resides, must be moved away so that the deeper levels can emerge and the reality of Tat Tvam Asi (I am That) can be realized.

“If water derives lucidity from stillness, how much more the faculties of the mind! The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the universe, the speculum of all creation.” -Chuang Tzu

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Laughter Yoga

As a 7-year-old in the midst of spiritually serious adults, I was lucky to have a partner in crime. My best friend and I were two of about five children whose parents were regulars at the ashram where I grew up. At Kirtan every Saturday night, I certainly loved singing along and shaking my wooden instrument to the sitar and tabla rhythm. Without fail, one monk would start his slow, steady 12 minute chant. Mysteriously no one ever joined in, so I was forced to sit silently, restlessly. An older woman, sitting on the brown couch would start waving her hands, rolling her eyes back in an ecstasy that had overtaken her. To me, she looked absurd, even insane, but most of all hilarious. God forbid I would look at my friend or we would die laughing. I spent all of those 12 minutes avoiding my friend’s eyes, with my head in my knees,  shaking with silent laughter.  I miss the days when your entire being feels like it’s ripping apart at the seams from uncontrollable laughter.

Luckily, 15 years later, I found Laughter Yoga. At 5:30 every Wednesday at YogaLaff NYC you can laugh your ass off for free with a motley crew of strangers. Various exercises involving eye contact and gestures are meant to open you up and start the laughter going. At first you feel ridiculous, and the uncomfortable amount of eye contact clues you in that you’re not the only one. The exercises begin to add loud “HO HO, HA HA HA” as you nervously walk around the room to perform them. It seems forced, silly, and you think, “well, this is what I get for free in New York City.” But then the uncomfortableness, combined with the absurdity and fake laughing can only be expressed through, well, actually laughing, and the fun begins. The natural contagion of laughter adds to this, and everyone is laughing, and by the end you feel a strange intimacy with all the participants. I felt opened up and de-stressed.  Laughter yoga proponents cite its health benefits:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Releases endorphins
  • Lowers cortisol levels
  • Stimulates dopamine production
  • Increases lung capacity
  • Is a form of aerobic exercise
  • Strengthens the immune system

After my first class, I chatted with two other newbies. One wore a suit and the other business casual, and we all lauded the experience and agreed that it surprised us. “I just realized,” the smartly-dressed woman remarked, “that I almost never laugh during the day….maybe 1 or 2 times at the most.” Sadly, she is probably not alone. Laughter is not only therapeutic- it connects us to a deep joy that many of us can recall from childhood. I strongly believe that we all can find this again because I have tasted it many times. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter  the kingdom of heaven.”

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