Article from New Vision Magazine 2009
Do you remember the last time you laughed until your sides ached?
Laughter is a natural skill we are all born with as infants. Children laugh approximately 200-400 times a day, whilst adults average a mere 15 times. So what happens to our laughter as we age? What are the benefits of laughing regularly and how can we learn to increase the amount we laugh?
Cultivating a Playful Nature
When we become adults with responsibilities and obligations, our mind wanders constantly, contemplating future actions or dissecting past events, instead of relishing the Present moment. When we learn to be playful in our lives; to explore the world once more with childlike curiosity, we learn to utilise our senses and to delight and laugh at the unusual, the colourful and the surprising.
Being playful is not normally encouraged in everyday adult life, so we need to discover a way to cultivate this essential skill for accessing joy. Singing, dancing, laughing, writing, drawing or gardening amongst other activities, are all routes that can lead to uninhibited joy, if we allow ourselves.
Benefits of Laughter
Laughter has been used frequently as a distraction from pain. In 1964, Norman Cousins suffered from an agonising, degenerative spinal condition. Whilst enduring this illness he began to watch laughter clips in order to manage his pain-relief. He discovered that enjoying ten minutes of hearty laughter would provide him with two hours of pain-free sleep. He went on to return to write up his astonishing experience in Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient (W.W.Norton, 1979). This work led to many other studies on the beneficial effects of laughing.
Recent research has shown that laughter:-
- Strengthens the immune system
- Releases natural pain-killers (endorphins) and reduces stress hormones in the body
- Acts as an aerobic work- out for the heart and lungs
- Lowers blood pressure and improves circulation
- Releases tension, promoting relaxation and deeper sleep
- Cleanses the body of stale air and toxins
- Increases levels of positivity, creativity and energy
- Provides an antidote to anxiety and worry, giving us fresh perspective
- Re-motivates us and lifts our spirits
Laughing For No Reason
In addition to giggling at comedy shows, watching children playing and other humourous stimuli, we can also learn to laugh for no reason, even on ‘the bad days’. Laughter Yoga, a method invented by Dr. Kataria in India in 1995, is a process of combining laughter exercises with playfulness, deep breathing and movements all designed to open up the body, mind and Spirit to laughter. The notion of laughing for no reason, however bizarre, is a powerful one. It negates the need for a sense of humour, and does not rely on circumstances to be ‘funny’ for the chuckles to emerge.
Of course when we are happy, laughter naturally radiates from our being. This is because the outer reflects the inner, but it is also true to say that because the inner and outer are inextricably linked, the outer will to varying degrees affect our inner lives. By way of a simple demonstration, as you read this, just smile. You will notice that the smile radiates inwards and makes you feel more positive.
Giving Ourselves Permission to Laugh
The great news is that laughing is a skill that can be re-learnt if the heart is willing. The body cannot tell the difference between a fake laugh and a real laugh, so when you begin to laugh, even if it is pretend to begin with, endorphins get released and create a ‘feel-good’ effect almost instantly.
By bringing laughter to the body first, the mind soon follows. Practised regularly, laughing becomes more and more natural and spontaneous. Gentle exercises can be introduced in solitary moments at home, with friends or family, or in a Laughter Club, wherever laughter is wanted or needed. Laughing doesn’t make problems go away, but it does put us in a better place to deal with them.
Laughter cuts across all boundaries, cultures and religions. Sharing laughter connects people and provides a foundation on which to build open and trusting relationships. Laughter, regardless of physical ability, age or gender, unites us all with the Present moment and each other. It encourages forgiveness for ourselves and others, releases anger and tension, allows us to express our joy and releases us from the mundane.
“What soap is to the Body, Laughter is to the Soul.” Yiddish Proverb
Lisa Sturge is a Laughter Yoga Leader and runs a monthly Laughter Club at Hamblin Hall. Please contact Lisa on 01243 572381 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details on the Club or for information on individual laughter sessions.