I have heard that “laughter is the best medicine” since I was a little girl and read the jokes in my mother’s Readers Digest magazines. It’s funny how a slogan can become a truth in your mind. In this case it turns out to be true, especially when you realize that the ability to laugh can be developed as a skill, through laughter yoga, below.
Physical benefits of laughter.
I have read about cancer and stroke patients recovering more quickly when they watched funny movies. It makes intuitive sense, and studies bear it out.
Web MD presents a list of studies showing that laughter:
- Increases blood flow and oxygen throughout the body and protects the heart.
- Boosts production of the cells involved in immune response.
- Lowers blood sugar. (What a fun way to help control your diabetes.)
- Decreases pain sensations, relaxes the body and enhances sleep with the endorphin boost. (A “runners high” for non-runners?)
Social and emotional benefits of laughter:
- Positive energy – Who doesn’t love to laugh? Everyone loves the person with the huge smile and easy laugh who is “the life of the party,” and it turns out that people who laugh easily have more friends too (as unfair as that may seem to we who take life too seriously).
- Social lubricant – We all know how a bit of humor can defuse a tense situation, and that laughter is a universal language that can break through social barriers to promote greater forgiveness and understanding.
- Bonding – Of course laughing together also builds stronger bonds with our children, friends and lovers, and is a wonderful way to start the process of making up after a fight. Really, laughter is a skill worth learning if only for that.
- First aid for stress, anxiety and more – Did you know you can’t feel angry or afraid while you are laughing? Speaking as one who knows, the trick to that could be willingness to let go. And, when you have done these laughter workouts for a while, you have built-in automatic quick first aid when your emotions come flooding in uninvited.
Spiritual benefits of laughter:
- Reduce suffering – Buddhists say that “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” and the Buddha is often pictured as a jolly laughing soul. Cultivating a habit of laughter is a good way to deliberately reduce suffering, and now we understand why. Laughter releases endorphins, Mother Nature’s own painkillers.
- Promote forgiveness – Rev. Susan Starks, Senior Pastor of the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in NYC, wrote a book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace, Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor,” which has sold over 15,000 copies and is available at Amazon.com. She says, “ Humor offers a revolutionary, yet simple, spiritual paradigm: If you can laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself. And if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others. And there is basically every world religious tradition in two sentences.” In addition to pastoring her church, Rev. Starks performs stand-up comedy with a Rabbi and an Imam in New York City.
“Laughter Yoga” takes the benefits up a level and makes it much easier too.
The thing is, just when I probably need laughter the most, I feel like laughing the least. If I am in physical or emotional pain, all I want to do is to curl up in a ball and be left alone.
There is now a solution. Dr. Madan Kataria developed something in 1995 he called “Laughter Yoga” and it has spread like wildfire around the globe! In 72 countries and counting, people are laughing together in public parks, on the beach, and in hospitals, fitness centers, senior centers and schools. In his TED talk, Dr. Kataria discusses the principles of Laughter Yoga and actually demonstrates a session with the audience.
(Link to his TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hf2umYCKr8)
The secret is, nothing has to be funny before you laugh.
Your body does NOT know the difference between deliberate laughter and spontaneous laughter. It does its healing magic either way. And since it takes at least 15 minutes of sustained laughter to reap the best benefits, very little in life is funny enough to keep you laughing for that long.
Laughter yoga uses diaphragmatic breathing, repetitive physical movement and FUN for a moderately aerobic workout. While it isn’t classical yoga, neither is it the comedy channel. You can find a laughter yoga group near you (and watch some other videos) on their website (LINK http://www.laughteryoga.org/english)
For those of you (us) at home, solitary laughter heals too.
While there is great benefit to social laughing, if you are stuck at home or there is no group near you, you can even do the laughter yoga workout at home, sitting in a chair, by yourself. You will find a teaching video here for a personal laughter yoga session. (LINK http://laughteryoga.org/english/gallery/videos/18)
In Summary, I think we are born to laugh.
Mother Nature has provided a natural physical, emotional and spiritual balm, available to everyone – for FREE – with no magic pills to swallow. We just have to be willing to use it.
I am intrigued with the way laughter yoga creates a laughter practice, which, like other practices, the body develops memory for. Now just a quiet solitary “ho, ho – ha ha ha” in the restroom at work will trigger those body memories and reduce our stress. Soon millions of people around the world will have a positive solution to conflict and disease, literally right at their fingertips.
Meanwhile, babies and children laugh naturally, all the time. We can too.
Try it, you may like it.