Once upon a time, long ago, I was a ballerina. At the ripe old age of 15 I was dancing professionally with a company in addition to attending school full time. My candle was proverbially burning at both ends at all times, and since I was so young I felt as though it was not in my control to stop it. Each day was like a snowball; as I’d wake up I just felt myself plowing through everything without having any time to check in and take care of myself. Not only did I not have the time or the awareness to take care of myself, but additionally, at such a young age to be expected to be a professional and act like an adult in an extremely competitive and cutthroat industry was insane and at the end of the day, not very much fun. Kids are supposed to have fun, yeah?
I’ll never forget the time when, in our dressing room, someone stuck a Ben and Jerry’s bumper sticker on the wall that simply read, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” I remember every day, coming in totally exhausted after a full day of school (mind you, private school with incredibly high expectations), and looking up at that bumper sticker on the wall and thinking to myself, “what the actual fuck am I doing?” That bumper sticker stuck with me, pun intended. Through the years, through college, through the end of my ballet career it stuck to the forefront of my mind–If it’s not fun, why do it?
Fast forward, several years later I’ve found yoga. WHOA! What a life changer. The intention of a yoga practice is basically the polar opposite of everything I learned growing up. Everything that shaped me into the being that I am, yoga works to undo. Daily. The process of unraveling the competition, the edge, the judgment, the perfection has been a long and ongoing one. Every now and then, when I don’t make time to take care of myself, I lapse back into my old ways and find that I pick apart myself, my body, even my physical yoga practice. When I lose the joy in my practice and it becomes work, I know I need to check myself before I wreck myself. I know yoga is work. Yoga is hard work and sometimes, it is really uncomfortable work. The thing is, for me, and perhaps you are the same too, pushing myself physically to attain some sort of stupid alignment or postural ideal is the complete opposite of the work that I truly need to be doing. Oftentimes we confuse work with something physically demanding and hard. Work is a 4 minute plank. Work is 59 chaturangas. Work is a handstand press. On the flip side, I need to unwind myself from this. Detangle my relationship with what work is, and begin to work on being still. On savasana. On sitting with my thoughts. For me, and again, perhaps for you too, a five minute seated meditation could be so much more insanely challenging than any inverted feat.
Back to my original thought. If it’s not fun, why do it? If your practice becomes the wrong type of work, you know the one…the perfectionistic, competitive type of “how many chaturangas can I squeeze into 60 minutes” work, you’re doing it wrong. Doing the REAL work of yoga is not always a good time, which is exactly why you need to let loose and allow yourself to have some fun and freedom on your mat from time to time. If every time you step onto your yoga mat, it’s the same drudgery of forcing yourself to sit and meditate or contorting your body into a pretzel shape that it doesn’t want to make, you will burn out. You will either begin to resent the practice, yourself, or both. You need to find a bit of play. Lighten up! It’s fucking yoga. It’s not peace negotiations with the Middle East. It’s inner work, it’s sometimes challenging inner work, but there’s gotta be some joy or you are missing the whole point.
This week, in my classes, I encouraged you all to set a playful intention for your practice. Yoga has this amazing capacity to hold space for us when we need something to depend on. It can carry us through transition, change, and hard times. It can also be our release from stress and the daily grind. So I invite you to keep a bit of fun and lightheartedness in your practice this week. Find the joy. Find the moments of release and happiness. Both on and off your mat, seek the light, the fun, and the playtime.