This old purple mat, ripped at the edges and stained with my sweet sweat, is my playpen. You see, though I am all “grown up”, I love to play. I like to play outside, in parks, on swing sets, and when I dance with friends. But most of all, I like to play at yoga. The studio is my playpen. That old sweaty mat is my wonderland. And this is your introduction to a whole new realm of yoga, where we step out of the rigidity and into that inner child that is just itching to play! Here are ten steps to help you reintegrate play into your practice.
1. Smile! As a yoga teacher, I am faced with your sweaty, angry, stressed out faces day in and day out. But when I invite my students to smile, the smiles echo like a loud roar throughout the room and we go from serious stern yogis to real, authentic human beings exploring these crazy bodies of ours.
2. Laugh! Did you know that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter? Go find a laughter yoga class and indulge in the most fun way to reduce stress hormones in the blood and conquer the blues. From prisoners to cancer patients to go-go-go busy bodies, everyone manages to chill out in a room of strangers laughing.
3. Feel. When was the last time that you actually felt what was happening in your body during your yoga practice? I mean really really felt, where you move around, you wiggle, maybe even giggle at the sounds and shapes your body makes?
4. Get outside. You know that feeling when you take a new route to work? When suddenly, everything seems to glow. In the summer, I take my practice to the park with my heart open to the sky, I feel like a kid in a sandbox, completely and totally free.
5. Dance. Goodbye stinky bars and packed nightclubs, hello ecstatic dance. This is where yoga, breath and free flowing trance dance is fused to take your weekend to a whole new level. Yoga Rave anyone?
6. Fly. Consider aerial yoga, what we are talking about is literally hoisting oneself up in shiny red silks and taking your yoga practice to zero-gravity. Float upside-down and inside-out. It’s all your superpower fantasies come true.
7. Festivals. While teaching yoga at Burning Man last year, I found myself adjusting the asanas of tutu’ed and nude yogis from around the world. Divided by languages and expertise but united by our willingness to come together with a passion for yoga-play. To the beat of loud music and the smell of homecooked bacon, this totally trumped any studio experience I have had. Try OM, Burning Man, Shambhala or Wanderlust to get your yoga festival fix.
8. Kids Yoga. If you have kids, bring them to a yoga class and observe. If you’re a teacher, get trained and teach. Children show us precisely what yoga play is all about. From laughter to dancing to unlimited smiles, we have a lot to learn from the young ones.
9. Water Yoga. Forget surfing, stand up paddleboarding yoga classes are the wildest way to get wet this summer. Take an early morning practice to your board, where balance and breath take on a whole new meaning.
10. Yoga Retreats. Stick any group of yogis together for days on end and a bunch of inner children will emerge. At the last retreat I hosted, I woke my students from savasana with the “Banana Boat Song” and with yoga-glazed eyes and thundering laughter they emerged from their savasana bliss.
As a yoga teacher, my practice is my play. I challenge you to soften up, chill out and stop taking yourself so seriously. Try to find that inner child that is actually happy in happy baby and giggling all the way through to savasana… and watch your practice transform.
Ashley Holly is a registered yoga therapist and grateful host of Bare All yoga retreats and Vision Flow workshops. She has an MA in International Relations and Certification in Project Management. Ashley has lived, worked, volunteered, written and practiced yoga in over ten countries, training with mentors from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Peru, Miami and Canada. Her teaching style is energized by her life experience and passion for healing, helping and revolutionizing lives.
Ashley’s classes are dynamic, fun, and introspective, always leaving students sweaty, inspired and ready to achieve their goals. To learn more about Ashley visit www.yogayuda.com.