Seriously funny - Yoga of Humour
Mike Nevitt has been teaching and practicing yoga, meditation and related arts for over 40 years. Now he’s looking to get people to see a lighter and more humourous side of the practice
Meet Mike Nevitt, a dedicated yoga practitioner and also a talented artist and designer who’s created a series of cartoons and artwork seeking to highlight some of the lighter aspects of the ancient practice. He calls it the ‘Yoga of Humour’. Not only that, he’s also an adept martial arts expert and is similarly seeking ways to fuse his interests, creating an entirely new variant, which he terms ‘YogaJitsu’. Originally from the UK, but now living in Denmark, OM caught up with him to find out about his unusual yoga story.
“Originally I started yoga practice for the same reason so many others do: to destress and find some inner peace and calm. I'd been unemployed for some months following a burn-out from my high-pressure job as a freelance graphic artist and things were not looking good. It was 1992 and the internet had not quite arrived, mobile phones were not yet commonplace and I did not even have an email address. With no landline and no TV I was in almost total isolation.
I realised something had to change and so, via the Job Centre, I found myself signed up to a Tai Chi teacher training programme with a group of other lost souls like myself.
Though I didn't know it, it was the beginning of something amazing and gave me the much needed contact with others who were also struggling. One particular day I was feeling lower than usual and headed off to the self-help section of Waterstone's bookstore.
There were many good books offering techniques and strategies for the relief of anxiety and stress and I ended up leafing through Light on Yoga by the late B.K.S. Iyengar from which I became sold on the idea of yoga.
I began attending Iyengar Yoga classes twice a week. Soon, the Monday and Thursday sessions became beacons of light in my weekly schedule. My mental state was improving and I found myself among like-minded practitioners, some of whom are good friends to this day. I became addicted to the feel-good factor and positive environment of the classes and soon I was using all my unemployment money to practice five days a week. I managed to save some money from teaching Tai Chi in my back garden to a small group of older ladies to the point that I had enough to sign up for one week of a two-week Ashtanga Yoga retreat in Oxford during the summer of 1996.
The retreat was fantastic, another world that I fell in love with. I desperately wanted to stay for the second week and so I sold my £500 racing cycle for just £200. I could have got more but I just wanted a guaranteed quick sale to secure my second week. I sold the bike to a traveller who was passing through the hostel I was camping at. He was delighted with his new bike and I was delighted with the money and the prospect of another week of yoga in Oxford.
Yoga practice made me feel great in my body and worthy in my mind; it gave me hope, it gave me new and good friends and it gave me new goals and a sense of belonging.
After the retreat, I began practicing up to five hours each day and made rapid progress in the asanas. People began to notice and before long I was invited to lead a weekend workshop in Oxford. To go from feeling like a worthless unemployed man to leading a seminar with over 50 attendees felt surreal and fantastic. The pay was good and I was on a high for days after. Yoga had given me back my soul.
In that same summer, a new guy moved into the vacant bedsit under mine and we quickly became friends when he saw me practicing yoga in the back garden. He introduced me to Theravada Buddhism and gave me information about a monastery where I could stay for free and learn meditation from practicing buddhist monks. Over the next decade I would visit the monastery many times.
Since those early days in the mid-90s I've taught workshops and retreats all over the world and for the most part really enjoyed it. I've had many great and funny experiences and met many wonderful people.
One or two memorable experiences would later serve as the trigger for the birth of my latest project of satirical humour based within the world of yoga and meditation.
The Yoga of Humour This project was not something I consciously formulated; it sprang spontaneously into existence one day with a cartoon scribble I posted on Facebook, which got a large amount of likes.
For some years, since around 2015, I had become increasingly disillusioned with the yoga world as it seemed to be increasingly saturated with new teachers emerging from all the studios offering teacher training programmes. The world of yoga had become crowded by new studios springing up on every corner offering deals and all kinds of incentives to get students to sign up with them — and, in turn, students became noticeably spoilt for choice and less aware of highly-experienced teachers and authentic teachings.
I did a second cartoon which also got quite a bit of attention and the feedback made me feel good. I felt as though I had vented in a tiny way a little of the frustration that had gradually been building up within me. I realised from the experiences I'd had during the two and half decades I'd been teaching that I actually had hundreds of these cartoons inside me just bursting to get out and soon The Yoga of Humour project was born.
It is never my intention to cause offence with the cartoons, some of them are just (hopefully) hilariously funny, some will induce a reflective smile, and others will offer a gentle poke and remind practitioners and teachers not to take themselves too seriously. Through this project, I would like to offer some insight into what it can be like to be a full-time yoga teacher and highlight that no matter how advanced we become we are all just human beings with weaknesses and failings within the wonderful and divine practice we call yoga.
The term Yoga-Jitsu is something I've coined very recently. In my 25th year as a yoga teacher and practitioner I found myself with a strong desire to explore something else, something new in which I could be anonymous and a complete beginner again. A friend introduced me to Brazilian JiuJitsu and I was instantly impressed. I have a background in martial arts from before all of my yoga and Tai Chi practices but I'd never seen anything like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. After 25 years of yoga and Pranayama, I'm still in pretty good shape, and at 54 years of age have an unusual level of strength and flexibility so I was not put off by the physicality of the new practice.
I joined a Jiu-Jitsu club and began training. It's intense, exhausting and in the early stages requires great humility. I experienced as much spirituality in Jiu-Jitsu training as I have in yoga practice. The warmup sequences and movement drills in JiuJitsu are awesome and I instantly saw it as a perfect complement to yoga asana practice and vice-versa.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu though, with its open sparring, is too intense for many people, but the movement drills can be done and enjoyed by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. I have the seed of an idea to open a Yoga-Jitsu school in which practitioners can enjoy all the benefits of yoga, Pranayama, meditation and the fun and connective camaraderie that goes with Brazilian JiuJitsu solo and partner drilling.”
Find out more about Mike Nevitt and The Yoga of Humour at: (@YogaOfHumour)