scene from the blues brothers

Laughter Yoga

“If we want world peace, we must let go of our attachments and live like nomads. That’s where I no mad at you, you no mad at me. That way, there’ll surely be nomadness on the planet. And peace begins with each of us. A little peace here, a little peace there, pretty soon all the peaces will fit together to make one big peace everywhere.”

–Swami Beyondananda, a great yoga humorist

Many years ago, Ananda University traveled to India to visit the boyhood home of the great yoga master Paramahansa Yogananda (author of Autobiography of a Yogi), which is in Calcutta. At that time Yogananda’s nephew, Hare Krishna Ghosh, was still living. Though Hare Krishna was a gentle soul not given to small talk, he was on one occasion inspired to tell our students some stories about his famous uncle.

When Hare Krishna was still a young boy Yogananda returned from America for a visit to his boyhood home. The family were having a formal meal together with others at a long table. Yogananda sat across the table from his nephew. Every now and then Hare Krishna felt something wet hit him on the side of the face. When he looked around everyone seemed straight-faced. Where could the tiny wet pieces of paper on his face be coming from? Several times wet paper hit his face. Each time, when he looked to catch the culprit, Yogananda would be looking away innocently. Finally Hare Krishna caught on that his uncle, using a little straw to launch spit-wads, was having a bit of fun with him, perhaps to give the young boy an entertaining break from the world of adult table-talk.

When Ananda University was located at a remote meditation retreat, the isolation could be challenging. My husband Nakula, who has an interest in absurd humor, was looking for ways to relieve the monotony. We did musical “fun” raisers and skits that brought the college and retreat community together and created smiles. Two of the humorous plays we created over the course of several years were penned by a young monk named Nabha, who also has a delightful sense of the absurd.

Nabha brought the local wildlife into two plays—Revenge of the Squirrels and Return of the Turkeys,—slapstick that poked fun at yogis living together in the middle of nowhere. Nakula agreed to be dressed as a turkey and gobbled for his lines in the turkey play. During the squirrel play, the audience howled when a voice recording of an esteemed village elder suggested the community collect acorns and learn to live more simply.

One student actually tried the experiment, eagerly gathered buckets of acorns, cured them, finally presented them as a gift to the kitchen manager as a sustainable form of nutrition. The summation of days of acorn gathering and curing was six cups of nasty bitter nuts. The kitchen manager took the bowl of acorn nuts, dumped them in batter and made chocolate chip cookies. So ended our illusions about sustainable living in an oak forest.

Daily laughter can be beneficial to everyone. The great yoga master Yogananda prescribed it as a tonic, a way to loosen the energy so we remain flexible in our minds. Reading a humorous story or finding the laughter in everyday life is healing, helps boost our joy level, and can actually strengthen the immune system.

Ananda University students found other ways to escape the pressure of academics. They devised student-led weekend yoga retreats, invited other colleges to join, led all the yoga postures themselves, taught meditation and arranged art, music and nature activities. The art they created together and the wild nature programs they led were equal to or better than anything our own staff devised. During one yoga session I remember walking into a room filled with college students, all lying on their yoga mats in the corpse pose. They were all laughing. First one would start laughing out loud, soon another would giggle, then would come a deep baritone laugh, giggles and more laughter. This went on for nearly 45 minutes, the student’s laughter contagious and healing. I closed the door and left quietly, wearing a big smile, inwardly thanking them. A reminder that laughter can bring light.

More wisdom from Swami Beyondananda:

“Finally, everything I have told you is channeled. That way, if you don’t like it, it’s not my fault. And remember, enlightenment is not a bureaucracy. So you don’t have to go through channels.”

Photo (top of page) caption: Nabha (right) and Nakula re-enact a re-written scene from the movie The Blues Brothers

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