When did we stop laughing at ourselves?

  • PublishedDecember 2, 2013

It happened a couple of days ago. A memory so loath to recall, but for the respect I have for truth I will summon up the courage to do so.

A friend of mine invited me to a complimentary yoga class; ordinarily such an invitation would be met with joy and gratitude, however, on this particular occasion one slight detail shaded my delight. The class was in the ‘Upper East Side’, a Manhattan neighborhood that is, in my opinion, exactly as it sounds – teaming with designer clad, immaculately kept housewives and their slick Wall Street-type husbands.

Not that I’m one to stereotype, of course. However, I’m not ashamed to admit that the idea of stretching my stiff limbs in front of limber, svelte, former Vogue cover girls brought a grapefruit size lump to my throat. Though I’m long past my days of teenage insecurities, there’s something about perfectly toned, impossibly long Upper East Side women that brings out the sixteen-year-old girl in me. And for the first time I think I should have actually listened to that sixteen-year-old girl because her normally irrational fears of shame and embarrassment happened to be right on point this time.

So there I was, all stretched out on my mat, focusing all my energy on sucking my bloated tummy in while willing myself not to break a sweat. As the pint size instructor demonstrated how to perfectly swing our legs into Warrior 1 pose I took a deep breath and swung away. That’s when it happened. “PPPPPPRRRRRRRVVVVVOOOOOOOOOOTTTTTTTT”

 At first I thought that that loud, obnoxious sound I just heard was all in my mind. Then I thought it must be coming from outside, perhaps a car horn, or a dog barking, or maybe even someone cranking a lawn mower to trim the non-existent grass on the concrete sidewalk. But, as I lifted my head up my peripheral vision began to pick up on a slew of reactions around me. I saw a smirk escape the woman to my left, the look of disgust from the spunky blonde way over on the other side of the room, and I’m pretty sure I heard the unfortunate soul positioned directly behind me gag and cough. There was no denying the truth of the matter – that unspeakable sound that had reverberated throughout this 7:00pm Upper East Side yoga class originated from yours truly. I had just farted during my yoga class.

Now, I know that you’ve all had one of those dreams where you suddenly realize you’re stark naked in a crowd and everyone’s pointing/gapping/laughing at you. Can you recall the searing humiliation you felt? Multiply that by 1000 and you’ll have an idea of the horror I was going through.

Please, tell me, what is a lady to do in such a situation? Sprint out of the class, even if you have to trample over the suffocating bodies, and vow never, ever, to go within five miles of the Upper East Side? Stand up, take responsibility, apologize to the chocking yogis and offer to pay any emergency medical bills that may ensue? Or, just continue about your yoga business, without a care in the world, blissfully acting as if nothing happened?

As I was debating my options, my eyes beginning to tear up from the embarrassment (and, um, the stench didn’t help either), each nanosecond of silence exploding with even more awkwardness, I looked to my right, hoping my friend would miraculously offer some kind of lifeboat. Adding serious insult to debilitating injury there was my darling friend slumped over on her knees, her face buried in her hands, her body gripped by strong convulsions. It took me a couple of breathless nanoseconds to realize that she wasn’t having an epileptic seizure, nor was she chocking on my, potentially lethal, bodily emissions. She was laughing, uncontrollably, and doing her very best to conceal her increasingly audible chortles of glee.

And that was when I broke down. Tears streaming down my face, clutching my cramping tummy, I began to laugh. And laugh, and laugh some more. In that moment in time the universe stood still as the only thing that made sense in the world was the irony, the absurdity of my Upper East Side yoga fart. There we were, my friend and I, two five-year-old squealing girls in a sea of disapproving adults. Only we weren’t five years old anymore, and our squeals and rapid-fire chuckles were not only wildly inappropriate but also entirely unwelcome in our current environment. And so, amidst the huffs and puffs from the agitated Upper East Side ladies, the pint sized instructor kindly, and oh so quietly, asked us to pick up our mats and exit the class.

Seriously. Seriously? At what point did we learn how not to laugh at ourselves? When did life become oh so serious that uncontrollable laughing is more disgraceful than gas and body odor? When did we stop laughing at our own farts, or rather, when did we all grow up to become sour-faced, professional adults?

It’s not that my situation was entirely hilarious or even unique – those of you who have ventured into any type of yoga would know how easy, if not inevitable, it is for your body to pass gas while you twist and turn and attempt to hold inhuman poses. But as I questioned how on earth those ladies could not find it funny, I realized that I couldn’t sit here shaming others when I clearly came so close to taking myself way, way too seriously.

As I probably would have done, merely a couple of years ago, when I did in fact take myself way, way too seriously. Had this Upper East Side yoga fart occurred back then I would have utilized all my acting skills to pretend that nothing happened. I would have rushed out of the class a minute or two before it was officially over, running out into the street waving erratically to hail a cab that would take me anywhere far, far away from the scene of the crime. In the cab I would likely be in tears, lamenting over the great tragedy that had just occurred.

‘Oh my god, how could that have happened! And in front of those perfect women! I knew I shouldn’t have had Indian food last night. Oh, they must think I’m the most disgusting person ever! I can’t ever show my face in this neighborhood ever again. They’ll probably tell all their friends about me, and soon half of New York will know about my yoga fart! They’re probably still laughing at me…oh, the shame, the shame! I’m never, ever going to do yoga in public again. In fact I’m never going to work out in public again.’ So on and so forth, all terribly dramatic and incredibly self-centered.

Seriously. It was the combination of deep insecurities and the ridiculous notion that everyone is always looking at me, scrutinizing my every move. Because surely everyone cares about me, what I do and don’t do, as much as I do, right? How could you not be as obsessed about me as I am? How could my flaws, my suffering, my incompetence, and, um, my farts not consume your every thought?

I may have been extreme in my thinking, but the underlying assumptions I had are universal. By virtue of being conscious, self-aware beings, we’re also very self-centered creatures, spending most of our lives assuming that the world, or indeed the universe, revolves around us. But it doesn’t. Just as I’m likely too busy analyzing my own actions to be concerned about yours, why would I think that others care so much about me? And if you don’t care all that much, what on earth am I stressing myself over?

When faced with adversity, some people exhibit a great ability for turning to laughter as a soothing balm, while others remain less able to do so. Typically I fall in the later group, but have recently realized the benefits of being in the former. Whether inappropriate or not, laughter is a powerful means by which we can encourage ourselves, drawing our attention away from our (perceived) suffering into the light of our humanity and mortality. Because we really are all silly, awkward, embarrassing, smelly and perfectly hilarious, mortal beings. Seriously, even if you do care, even if you’re disgusted by normal bodily actions and slightly immature reactions, it’s hard to deny the fact that the sound of flatulence is funny.

And so it was, as my friend and I abruptly walked out of that delightful yoga class, all refreshed and relaxed having experienced a wonderful abdominal workout, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude. Gratitude, for the ability to laugh at my silly, flatulent prone, self. And joy, for being such a silly, flatulent prone, perfectly imperfect, human being.



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