My husband, Dave, is hilarious and he has a great appreciation for comedy. His sense of humor made me fall for the guy back in college and it’s a big part of why our relationship and our family life is still so much fun. One of the things Dave looks forward to each year is the Moontower Comedy Festival. It’s a weekend of mostly stand up comedy acts and with our passes around our necks, we get to see a variety of shows over the course of the festival. Some shows showcase up-and-coming comics who each take the stage for a five-minute set. Mid-size venues feature a line-up of comics who are onstage for ten or fifteen-minutes. And at the end of each night, the headliners, the comics who have been in the business for a long time, get an hour on stage to stand there and talk…and be funny… with only a microphone. I’m convinced that this is one of the hardest things that anyone could attempt to do, but somehow, the comedians make it look easy.
All the people in the festival are good, but some are really amazing, and those amazing ones always make me think about yoga. We have this idea that yoga happens on a colorful rectangular mat and involves pretzel like postures, but that’s not the real story. Yoga is a way of being and the comedians who flow with their material, timing, and audience embody this state. They are also themselves. Who they are comes through, and they aren’t trying to be anyone else. The Bhagavad Gita says that it’s better to do your own dharma imperfectly then to do someone else’s perfectly. This is true in comedy. In the best acts, the comedian is coming through.
When I’m in one of those audiences, time passes differently. I laugh because I’m connected to the person on stage, the jokes and the stories, and I can relate it to something I know within myself. I’m not the only one who feels it, either. These comics draw the biggest crowds. When we can feel the flow, the yoga, we know it and want to be around it.
How do these comedians get to be so good? How do they reach this state of yoga? They don’t get good by standing in front of their bathroom mirrors trying out all their jokes on themselves. It involves hundreds if not thousands of hours practicing their particular craft. They get up in front of crowds for five, and fifteen minutes at a time until they have the chops, the nerves and the material to deliver. They practice doing what they want to be able to do. Patton Oswalt started doing comedy in 1988. Colin Quinn – 1984. Chris Hardwick – 1991. Maria Bamford – 1998. I bet all of these people have had moments early in their respective careers in which they felt this flow, this state of yoga. Almost all of us have. But the cool thing is, with practice, it can happen with much more predictability and regularity. Do it enough and eventually, it is possible to be in this state nearly all of the time.
Yoga’s definition holds a meaningful truth for each of us. We might not aspire to be comedians, but many of us do want to achieve a level of comfort, focused attention and flow within ourselves. We want to get out of our own way and be ourselves, even if it’s a little messy and imperfect sometimes. And here’s where our definition of yoga has to expand even further beyond mats and pretzels. The way that we move toward this state of being, a state of yoga, is through practicing yoga. That practice can involve rubber mats, but it doesn’t stop there. Practice supports us most when we bring that way of being in all that we do – into our relationships, the situations we encounter, and the way that we relate to our very own needs, desires, fears and passions. It would be nice if we could watch someone do something amazing and then decide to be there ourselves, but it doesn’t work that way. We can’t will ourselves to have mastery of a skill or way of being. The only thing we really can ‘do’ is practice and give ourselves the experience, again and again, of the way we want to be.