What a gift ! ! ! It is part of our inherited abundance and available to everyone–at no cost and at every age! Starting out in this world, we laugh before we learn to speak words. At age 92 the Boston marathon runner Gladys Barrow was asked prior to this Patriot’s Day race, her 8th consecutive participation, how she managed to compete? She said she stays fit and always finds things to laugh about. Laughter connects people–to others and to themselves.
There’s more energy and benefit in sharing laughter than laughing by yourself. The bonds created in laughing together with someone act as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements and disappointment. And you don’t need a sense of humor to express laughter, just a willingness to risk some loss of control. Who hasn’t been on a belly-laugh roll and tried to stop because the occasion seems to call for less than hilarity–for some of those present?
Where does laughter come from? It comes from stress that accumulates in the body-mind system–and it seems as if there is more than enough of that to go around. Yes, it comes from stress and it deals with stress most effectively in myriad ways.
Physically, “the diaphragm, thorax, abdomen, heart, lungs, and even the liver are given a massage during a hearty laugh,” according to Dr. Marvin E. Herring of New Jersey’s School of Osteopathic Medicine. Laughter brings more oxygen to the body and brain, increases the count of natural killer cells which help the immune system destroy cancer cells and resist disease, improves blood circulation to the coronary arteries and dilates the blood vessels to help reduce blood pressure (from the work of Dr. Michael Miller of Maryland University), and Dr. Lee Berk’s study confirms that “laughter therapy significantly helps to bring down blood sugar levels, thereby controlling diabetes.” Ten minutes of healthy laughter is equal to 30 minutes on the rowing machine was established scientifically by Dr. William Fry from Stanford University, who sees it as the best cardio workout with benefits similar to jogging, swimming and cycling. Through relieving tension and stress, muscles relax and pain is diminished, or at least we are less overwhelmed.
Mentally, laughter affords a different, healthier perspective to problem solving. Not only are the physical benefits supporting the laughing individual, but the person can apply a more playful approach to a challenging issue, increasing the possibilities. It enhances resilience and helps defuse conflict. People practicing Laughter Yoga report higher energy levels and improved mental attitude, and Laughter Yoga groups are springing up all over the country.
Emotionally, laughter impacts the number one sickness in the world–depression–by lowering stress hormones, helping to release neurotransmitters from the brain cells, lifting mood and increasing intimacy. It brings people to the present moment, eases anxiety and fear, adds zest and joy to life, and promotes a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations. That hearty laugh can help you relax and recharge, increasing energy and your ability to stay focused. Making a conscious effort to incorporate more humor and play in your daily interactions can improve your relationships at every level. As Enda Junkins says in her book We Need to Laugh More, “Laughter is feeling deeply which allows us to live fully.”
What do we laugh at? It could be anything and everything that gets our attention and doesn’t fit our expectation. In an effort to break away from being overly serious, laughing at yourself is often suggested. However, being laughed at can carry a negative connotation. So laughing with yourself is a more comfortable approach for me.
I offer a meta exercise, which Chris Belanger defined at his Laughter Meditation workshop as a “loving kindness” exercise. He started the group with everyone giving him/herself a big hug and laughing with self. It doesn’t take long to get really swept up in the laughter roaring, bubbling, chuckling, giggling, snickering, and/or snorting. After many minutes, we were silenced with a chime and instructed to close our eyes and notice what was going on inside our body, how we were feeling. Following the time to integrate that first part, we continued the cycle in sequence: with eyes closed and arms crossed over our chest, we envisioned laughing with someone we loved; with elbows bent and hands raised facing forward, we envisioned laughing with someone we knew casually but not well; with arms extended upward, we envisioned laughing with someone with whom we have had a difficult relationship; with arms extended outward, we envisioned laughing with the world. It was a profound experience for me, one in which during a silence I felt completely at one with the room and all it embraced; there were no boundaries, no limits. I felt the ultimate in peace and calm.
We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine AND it feels fabulous! So laugh out loud, look and listen for ever more opportunities to express your feelings in helpful ways and bring others along with you.
Laughter is an instant vacation – Milton Berle
Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. – Victor Borge
What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. – Yiddish Proverb
Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on. – Bob Newhart
The most wasted of all days is one without laughter. – e.e. cummings
Seven days without laughter makes one weak. – Mort Walker
Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face. – Victor Hugo