Yoga can be so serious. Ever look around class while people are doing backbends or pressing their quads to their bones in a standing pose? Wrinkled brows. Flared nostrils. Gripping toes. You’d think we’re all training to go into battle. Not that I have an issue with intensity-- in the right amounts and on the right occasions. But if we don’t balance passion, dedication, and hard work with lightness and ease, we may be doing warrior pose but we’re not doing yoga.
So, play. Play means different things to different people. When I was a child, play meant begging my older brother to let me cavort with him and his friends while they played fighting-soldier-shoot-out in the backyard. My brother let me play sometimes, but only if I would take on the secret code name of Mop Top.
That wasn’t the most delightful kind of play.
But as an adult, I love to play. Play keeps me connected to the lighter part of who I am. It reminds me not to take myself too seriously (and I often need that reminder). I like to play by doing handstands, Acro Yoga, laughing till the point of internal combustion with an old pal. You know who you are.
There is a word in Sanskrit for play: It’s lila. It relates to yoga and the spiritual path, though its interpretations vary. Lila can be thought of as the play of the universe, in the sense that the whole creation and dance of life is a wild game that was invented by the gods. This is often thought of as Divine Play. (If you’ve ever seen Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, that’s a delicious commentary on Divine Play.) Lila can also be thought of as the crazy, marvelous, confusing dance between two lovers (or between the male and female energies that reside in all of us).
To live a life of ease, play is necessary. Not the kind of play that lands you in the ER at 5am with someone else’s clothes on after imbibing copious amounts of illicit substances in the backseat of your ex’s car. (That’s called escapism.) But lighthearted, clean fun that helps you loosen the reins on rigid thinking, and lighten the load when your practice gets too heavy.
Acro Yoga’s Divine Play Festival (coming up next week -- details below) is a sweet example of play’s importance in your yoga practice. Organizer Jenny Sauer-Klein told me that, “Play keeps you connected to innocence and wonder. It keeps you fresh. In Acro Yoga, we’re playing to create connection and see the highest and best in each other, to see the divine in each other through the vehicle of play.”
If the whole universe is just an unpredictable giant puppet laser light show dance party, we may as well get on the dance floor. Go forth and play.
Around the Bend: Ways to Play
Painting Yantras and Mandalas
Play with spiritual painting. Learn how to create sacred yantras and mandalas with Master Sacred Artist Pieter Weltevrede.
10/5-10/7, $150, Yoga Tree Telegraph, Berk. www.yogatreesf.com 
Divine Play Festival
In its third year, the annual Acro Yoga Festival is the pinnacle of ridiculous fun for both acro newbies and old school trees and elves. Flying required—no wings necessary. The Acro Yoga mantra, which I love: “Work honestly. Meditate every day. Meet people without fear. And play.” --Baba Hari Das
10/12-14, $325 for entire event (various prices for other passes), Fort Mason Center, SF. www.acroyoga.org/acroyogafestival 
Not like a rave rave. Like a yoga rave. Insane dance party minus substances. No booze equals no age restrictions. So bring your baby, bring your grandma, or just bring yourself. Presented by the Art of Living and in conjunction with Divine Play.
10/12, $20-$30, Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason Center, SF. www.yogarave.org/us 
Trouble rockin’ those chatturangas or inversions? Not sure how to access your physical (or emotional) core? In this playful, strength-building workshop for women (taught by your truly!), we’ll learn ways to build muscle and confidence through yoga. Come play for the day!
10/27, $35 by Oct. 20, $40 after, Yoga Garden, SF. www.yogagardensf.com 
Slackline Classes with the Yoga Slackers
You haven’t played till you’ve gotten on a rope. Learn to walk it, learn to do yoga on it, learn to fall off it with the fabulous local Yoga Slackers, helmed by Ariel Mihic and Liz Williams.
Various dates in Nov and Dec, free, Sports Basement, SF. freeslacklineclasses.eventbrite.com 
Karen Macklin is a yoga teacher and multi-genre writer in San Francisco. She's been up-dogging her way down the yogic path for over a decade, and is a lifelong lover of the word. To learn more about her teaching schedule and writing life, visit her site at www.karenmacklin.com .