ENLIGHTEN UP – USING COMEDY TO TEACH FROM YOUR MOST AUTHENTIC VOICE

by Beth Lapides and Greg Miller (Originally published in FitYoga Magazine)

We practice (write, perform, produce) a form of comedy known as “Un-Cabaret” but that we think of as the comedy of love. It’s a more conversational, open-minded and open-hearted type of comedy. We also teach it. And what we found was that in order to teach this style of comedy we first had to teach people to get into their most authentic voice. To not “sound like” comedians, but to be themselves.

You can’t be truly funny without being yourself. But you can’t be truly your Self without being at least a little bit funny. It’s like leaving one of the colors out of the rainbow! And the benefits are huge. Laughter connects people, brings us into the moment, raises vibration, activates the third chakra, increases endorphins and is fun! Here are some tips to help with this new asana; ‘laugh-asana’.

1. OPEN UP. Start by giving yourself permission to be funny. Open up to it. The same way you might open to grace. Or open your hips.

2. GIVE LAUGHS. Let go of the idea that you have to make people laugh, or get laughs. Think about letting them laugh instead. Think of giving laughs.

3. USE YOUR REAL VOICE. Everyone’s voice has a particular rhythm. In the same way that comedians often have that “stand-up comedy voice”, yoga teachers sometimes have to work to stay out of that monotonous “yoga teacher voice”.

Record yourself in class. Later, playback softly or at a distance. It’s not so much about what you are saying, but about what you “sound like”. The tempos and rhythms of your voice.

Use words you love, words you make up, words you grew up with; sciencey, arty, geeky, pop culturey, words you use with your friends. Use your own vernacular. These are the words that keep you in your own rhythm.

What we’re talking about is naturalism, but even more so. Super naturalism. Being totally organically wholly yourself, but in an exaggerated way for comic effect. Exaggeration is a key tool in the comedy toolbox. Do you have voices, accents or imitations that you naturally do in life? The nagging mother? The Indian guru? The redneck yogi? Little songs you sing? Do it all. Variety creates dynamics. Dynamics create surprise. Surprise creates funny.

4. USE YOUR BODY. Use physicality for comic effect like doing demos with an exaggerated impression of a common student mistake. Even better, do an impersonation of yourself, which requires self-knowledge, humility, and a willingness to be foolish.

5. USE STORIES. Humans love stories. Tell stories of your own practice, breakthroughs you’ve had. Stories from your life. Stories from the sacred texts. Ask yourself what is funny about a story in the same way that you ask yourself what it means. You can also think about your asana sequencing as a story. In the timeline of the class, is there a place that clearly calls for comic relief? Maybe a particularly intense sequence where a little light-hearted offering will help students surrender?

6. DON’T PUSH. Trying to force a laugh is over-efforting. Relax and remember that a little goes a long way! It’s the lightness you’re after.

7. BE IN THE MOMENT. Of course. In fact if you can nail a moment, a mood, that everyone is aware of, there’s often a laugh of recognition. And if you can respond authentically to something happening – a cell phone, not enough space, forgetting the name of a pose or doing one side of a pose – say hallelujah Ganesha, because you have just turned the obstacle of an awkward moment into an opportunity for laughter.

8. BE THE STRAIGHT MAN. (Not gender-wise!) Offer set-ups, or questions, and let students get the laugh. Once you open the door it doesn’t matter who’s the first one through.

9. KNOW YOURSELF. Here’s a way to practice svadyaya (self-study) in a different kind of triangle pose. Draw a triangle in your notebook. In one corner write ‘yogi’. That includes yoga teacher, student, scholar, whatever.

In the other two corners you’re going to write other major aspects of yourself. Maybe you’re a parent, surfer or artist. Maybe you’re a healer and a control freak. Or a drama queen and a Big Sister. You are (at least!) three-dimensional. In each of those dimensions there are stories or funny references that make you you.

10. WRITE ON. You are the author of your classes. (That’s what gives you the authority!) Keep a notebook. Use it to keep track of fleeting thoughts but also to explore recurring ideas and stories in depth.

Think of it as a place to play, to overwrite, to explore what you want to get across in class. What are your thoughts about pain? About flow? About balance? What would you tell that stuck student if you had the perfect words? Go ahead and write out whole classes.

Write down what you said to your friend on the phone that made her laugh. In fact the phone is a great place to hear your real voice. Write things down exactly as you said them. Also note things what sparks laughter for you? What do you think is funny?

11. USE BETH’S PAGE TO STAGE METHOD. A class, or audience, has a certain energy, and will act like poultice and elicit things that a page can’t. Your prep work on the page will help you channel that energy. And your classes will fuel what goes into the notebook. You alternate. Page to stage (class). Stage back to page. Writing and teaching out loud use opposite sides of the brain. Alternating them is a powerful creative tool, and a 100% renewable resource!

12. PRACTICE. We think of the sense of humor as the seventh sense and, like any sense, it needs to be cultivated. The seventh sense, like the seventh chakra, is light-filled, subtle and so worth working to open! So be patient with yourself. Being funny is a practice that requires practice.

And remember that Buddha passed his teachings on to the smiling disciple not the serious ones. So enlighten up and have fun out there!