Jun 02 2020
How are your joy levels these days? Can you handle a bit more joy? Look no further! In this week's Midweek Musings, I will be pondering on the theme of joy and how we can get more of it, via discussion of three short videos from our extensive Clown Workout archive; Welcoming Joy, Exploring Taste and Laughter Yoga.
It's a choose-your-own adventure; you can read this blog, or you can press play on the videos and participate in three mini workshops on the theme of joy, or you can do a bit of both. Happy happy joy joy!
In this facebook live, I started by asking the live participants if they'd experienced any joy over the weekend. Between us, we'd been to an online singing workshop, walked in nature, hung around with a little just-walking toddler, eaten salad from the garden, danced to gypsy music in the woods, listened to soothing acoustic guitar music and taken part in a 48 hour Read For Globe. This short list illustrates how joy looks different for different people. What have you done recently to raise the joy?
As a therapist / facilitator, I'm in a very privileged position. I get to see inside a range of people's lives. Through this last couple of months, I've noticed some trends around joy. Many people have been finding the seriousness and scariness of the situation we're living in to be inhibiting their ability to experience joy. Then there are others who've been having joyful experiences, and then immediately feeling guilty; which then leads to them dulling, capping or quashing joy. I've had many people tell me that they “shouldn't” be feeling joyful at a time like this. Do either of those experiences resonate with you?
In my facebook live, I made it clear that the message was not; “You should only be joyful, joy is the way!” What I hoped to get across was that opening to joy can help us grow our resilience, nourish our souls and instil us with hope, all of which are important, especially through this difficult period. I spoke about the expansive nature of joy and how experiencing joy can offer us a sense of spaciousness. This spaciousness can help us to be with the more difficult feelings of grief, confusion, anger, frustration or whatever you might be experiencing.
I explained how our society can view joy as frivolous and extra to the real work of staying alive and suffering. I think joy is a very serious and important state, we could even view it as a spiritual practice.
For the rest of this facebook live, I invited participants to welcome in the joy with a 4-part practice:
1.) preparing for joy
This is a fun physical ritual to make space for joy and prepare the ground for it to enter.
2.) tapping into joy
This is a short sitting meditation, to help you ground, soften and get present. I introduce a method of getting present, through tuning into the movement your breath, using these couplets from Thich Nhat Hanh:
breathing in, I am breathing in / breathing out, I am breathing out
breathing in, deeply / breathing out, slowly
breathing in, YES / breathing out, THANK YOU
Tuning into the movement of the breath is a simple way to bring yourself to presence. Whenever you notice your mind wondering, you can simply return your attention back to the breath coming in and out.
Deep and slow breaths help your nervous system to calm down. It's very difficult to experience joy when you're activated. When you're in fight, flight, freeze, your whole nervous system is involved in your survival; joy doesn't get much of a look in when you're running from a tiger.
Through placing YES on the in-breath and THANK YOU on the out-breath, we can begin to cultivate acceptance (YES) and gratitude (THANK YOU). Is it possible to meet yourself just as you are in this moment with the spirit of YES / THANK YOU?
3.) expressing joy
Turning your attention to your personal space and the objects in it. Can you view what you see in the spirit of YES / THANKYOU?
Notice something that brings you joy.
Find the sound of that object, sing it out loud
Take the quality of that object into your body, become it.
Whatever you're doing, do it more!
Find a way to move it through the space.
Whatever you're doing, do it bigger, turn it up, do it more!
If you get bored, find a new object and start again
Keep going with this until you've had enough
4.) grounding joy
Coming back to sitting, elongate your out-breath, feel the ground beneath you, feel the ripples of joy in your body.
Imagine that joy is a ball of energy in your hands in front of your belly, lift it above your head and rain it down on yourself, savouring the experience. Do this three times.
Because we've got enough and we know how to make more, this time we're going to offer joy out to anyone who might need it, by turning your hands outwards and raining down the joy on others. Do that three times.
Have a little rest, notice how you are now.
If you enjoyed these practices, you could integrate some of them into your day. When I make cultivating joy a daily practice, I discover space for more joy to happen through my day.
This next Clown Workout is from Deborah Antoinette who invites you to tune into your senses, especially the sense of taste. Deborah explains how getting in touch your sense of taste can bring you into connection with your child self (which is where you might find your joy and is incidentally also where your clown lives).
As adults, we have learned to suppress our emotions through a lifetime of social conditioning, it's not OK to feel in public. In my experience, the main work of becoming a clown is learning to suspend our adult sense of appropriacy, so we can tap into our natural expressive state.
Deborah describes how when we're enjoying our food, our whole body moves; this natural phenomenon can be tapped into and turned up to give our clowns permission to express their feelings fully.
Exploring Taste - The Exercise
She invites participants to raid their cupboards and fridges for the most delicious food they can find and lay it out on a table or on a blanket on the floor. If you're going to do this one, you will also need a blindfold.
The first task is to build suspense, Deborah invites you to sit back and breathe deeply, paying attention to the part of you body that runs from just under the belly-button, all the way to the base of your pelvis and feel the energy that's there.
Then you can slowly open your eyes and look at the colours of the food in front of you, registering what you're enjoying. When you've feasted your eyes, you can reach out for your blindfold. With your eyes covered, you can spread the food out in front of you in a mysterious way, so that you won't know what you'll be eating.
Now it's time to discover the food, item by item, exploring, never knowing. Begin with feeling the shapes and textures, following your flow; you can rub it on your skin, smell it, put it in your mouth, notice body sensations connected to the taste and texture – Do you want to move? Do you want to stay still? Follow your impulses. Whatever you're doing, can you enjoy everything 10% more?
For me, this whole exercise was a pathway to pure joy. Covering my eyes helped me focus on my sense of taste and stopped the self-consciousness that might ordinarily prevent access to joy.
It reminds me of the time I went to a huge art exhibition in an abandoned office block. The artist had replaced all the neon strip lights with rainbow bulbs. I sat on the edge of a big empty hall that was drenched in multi-coloured lights and watched adults trudging sensibly through the red, orange, yellow, blue, green and purple pools of light. Then came a 3 year old child. As soon as she entered the space, her body expanded, limbs out wide, she playfully danced her response to the exhibition, rolling, leaping and jumping across the space.
That 3 year old lives on in all of us, those joyful impulses are still all there, but we've learned to hold ourselves in rigid reverence. It doesn't take much to rediscover joy.
In this final Clown Workout, I offer a short Laughter Yoga session. Laughter Yoga can be an easy way to tap into joy, without even needing anything particularly joyful to be happening.
For the uninitiated, I can tell you that it's not like yoga yoga, there's no bending or stretching, you're not going to pull any muscles and you don't need a mat. It's about using laughter and breath to give yourself a bit of an internal workout.
Laughter Yoga started in India with Dr. Kataria, a GP who discovered, through his patient work, that people don't laugh because they are happy, they are happy because they laugh. He began bringing laughter into his medical practice and eventually developed Laughter Clubs, where people gather together and are led through a series of simple and stupid exercises that encourage laughter.
Sometimes the things you do in Laughter Yoga are funny and sometimes they are not, but you are encouraged to use the sounds of fake laughter because the body doesn't know the difference. You're still getting that oxygen intake, right down to the bottom of your belly and you're still getting that joyful endorphin rush that you would with real laughter.
All it requires is that you put your cynicism up on a shelf and give it a go (do it, I dare you!).
Fancy having a go?
Follow the video instructions, for a few simple Laughter Yoga exercises:
Angel Dance Laugh - breathing in deeply, bring the arms up above the head, holding the breath for a moment, then releasing the breath and the arms with a sigh, repeating this a few times, lengthening the sigh each time, until it becomes a gentle laugh. On the final go, turn the laugh into a little gentle laughing angel dance.
Body Parts Laugh– laughter in the belly goes ho ho ho, laughter in the chest goes ha ha ha, laughter in the shoulders goes hu hu hu, laughter in the face goes hee hee hee. Try these out loud, then switch between the different laughs.
Banana Laugh– imagine you are a banana and in a saucy way, unpeel one section of your skin at a time until you become a free banana. Now jump around the space in glorious celebration of your freedom!
The Laughter Shower- scooping up the goodness from the ground and raining it down on yourself (the goodness is whatever you need right now – eg soothing, energising, focussing, inspiration). Then offer it out to everyone who needs a bit of this goodness.
Grounding Meditation – coming into contact with the ground, taking a moment to notice how you are in your body and in your heart, noticing what you need – if it's more rest then take it, if there's something else you need, then gradually come back into your space and find whatever it is you need.
I've really enjoyed revisiting these Clown Workouts with fresh eyes and pondering on the nature of joy. How are you doing? How are your joy levels now? Are there any new intentions you'd like to make about your relationship with joy?
This blog is the fourth in a series of Lockdown reflections. Here are the others: