What “The Hangover” Taught Me

September 3, 2011

“One of the greatest gifts that the yoga practice gives us is the ability to experience the sublime within the mundane world we live in.”

One of my gifts as a yoga teacher, if I do say so myself, is the ability to fashion a theme from any inspiration.  I’ve created memorable themes from watching the roller derby, going to music shows at the 930 club and articles I’ve read in Sports Magazines.  Nothing is off-limits.

So this summer, I decided to use movies as my theme all summer long.  My students and I called it “Summer at the Movies” and I took requests.

Towards the end of the session, one of my students challenged me by saying, “I wonder what you’d do with a movie like The Hangover.”  I actually hadn’t seen the “boys will be boys bachelor party in Vegas”-fest, so I promptly Netflixed it and of course came out with a theme.

Essentially, the theme was, “balanced action is a good idea.”  But that’s not as important.  I’ll get to that later.  What I’m more interested in, is illustrating the idea that yoga is everywhere.  Not just in the obvious yoga places like sutras and gitas.

Which is not to say that traditional themes, derived from more traditional “yoga contexts” are of less importance to me.  All spring my themes revolved around the Yamas and Niyamas and I enjoyed teaching them.  But what I loved most about teaching the Yamas and Niyamas was translating them into a more modern and accessible context.  Because we live in the world now, not the ancient world of the yogis that brought us classics like the Yoga Sutras.  For these philosophical concepts to be relevant, they also have to be current and relatable.

Which “The Hangover”, as well as Captain America, X-Men, Harry Potter and the many other movies I’ve used this summer as theme inspiration, happens to be.

Now some people might think that using the Hangover to guide a yoga class is at best irreverent and at worst, offensive.

But I think that’s a really limited vision of how yoga fits into our lives.  One of the greatest gifts that the yoga practice gives us is the ability to experience the sublime within the mundane world that we live in.

That’s also why we go to the movies.  To see something on the screen that we can relate to, but is a little bit further beyond any experience we will likely ever have.  I will never be a teenage wizard, but I can experience the magic of a powerful love in my regular muggle life.

In The Hangover, we can all relate the the underlying thread of the movie which is, “too much of too many good things in a very short period of time, leads to some seriously unpleasant consequences.”  On the most mundane level of our experience, this is like eating too much birthday cake on your birthday.  It tastes SO GOOD and it is MY BIRTHDAY, so having 2 more pieces is totally the best idea I’ve ever had.  Until I suddenly feel the urge to spend quality time in my bathroom, getting a good long look at the inside of my toilet bowl.  Sound familiar?  Maybe a little.

The excess is the eating too much cake; your body’s solution is the throwing up.  Your body is desperately seeking balance again (which is always does because balance in our bodies is the ideal state of being) and so the fastest way back to homeostasis is to get rid of the excess. We crave balance in this life because the world we live in constantly throws us off course and out of whack.

Essentially, this is “The Hangover” in a nutshell.  And whether you’ve seen the movie or not, it is relatable.

The other interesting element of this movie is the one character arc that was actually developed.  One of the characters (The “non-doctor” Dentist), begins the movie oppressed in his life, mercilessly teased by his friends for his career and lambasted for staying with his ultra-bitch of a girlfriend.  Because he is so repressed by his own feelings of low self-worth, it takes the wildest night of his life to bring him to a sort of equilibrium.  As crazy and out of control as the partying is, it unveils a little bit of his true nature and by the end of the movie he is able to speak up for himself and leave the unhealthy relationship in his dust.

Sometimes we need a little wild in our lives to find balance when our true self is cloaked and hidden from us.  And sometimes, for those of us who often move through the world too wildly, learning restraint will offer us some insight.  How we each find balance is unique to what we need, but everyone seeks to find balance.

Arguably, I could have simply taught a class saying at the start, “Balanced action is a good idea and here’s why” and use the birthday cake analogy, but lacking context that everyone in the room can relate to diminishes the Mike Tyson-like punch that a good yoga class needs to be memorable and empowering.

Being able to look at past excess-fueled choices and recognize that you don’t want to end up in a Vegas penthouse missing a tooth with a Tiger in your bathroom is a motivating thought.  Knowing that you have ability to leave an unhealthy relationship and truly take ownership of who you are, is life changing.  You can find all of this if you look hard enough in the likely yoga places.

Or you can rent The Hangover.

What a sublime idea.

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