Laugh Away Stress with Laughter Yoga

Ahhhhh laughter…yes that is our topic for today. But first a little frame around the picture.  Lately I have been having a lot of conversations with people about our healthcare system in the US and treatment for mental health.  Lots of differing view points and interest in engaging in more dialogue around such issues has been coming to the surface.  It made me think about how much energy is often put on dispelling or dismissing forms of treatment that are not in line with the predominant view point.  This is
quite American, isn’t it.  It really is why most people outside of the US are not so keen on us.  We think we are all that.  We think that we so much smartttaaa than othuas (little Bostonian for ya:)  But when youtake a look at the facts, Ayurvedic  (Indian) and Chinese medicine have been around for CENTURIES.  Yes centuries.  Western medicine is fairly new as psychotropic medications for mental illness have only been around since the 1950’s.  We like to think that somehow these medications are far more sophisticated than other forms of treatment; even treatments that are more spiritually based such as Native American traditions.  So smug we are.  But I must say, until I began to open up my own mind to other ways, I was in the dark myself thinking that Western medicine was the only way.  Before I tried acupuncture almost seven years ago now, I was very sick for a long time with a variety of different symptoms that I didn’t know were all related.   It was only until I began acupuncture that the points (yes pun)
were connected for me and I began a path of healing.

So why this rant you may wonder?  Well the above TED MED talk is of Dr. Madari Kataria who is the founder of Laughter Yoga.  He created Laughter Yoga in 1995 in Mumbai.  A form of yoga about laughter you say?  Laughter in yoga?  I thought yoga was all about being serious and sweating and contorting yourself into these ridiculously crazy poses.  Well yes, that is the American version of yoga, unless you come to my classes and then I may make you laugh or threaten to tickle you if you don’t! 🙂  Putting the fun into yoga has been a mission of mine for a few years now.  This started a while ago when I began experiencing people who were not present in their bodies or even in the room that they were in.  Laughter felt like a common way to help people begin to come alive.  Laughing freely and often is an underutilized life skill in our culture.
In our chat Laughter as Medicine we chatted about Patch Adams and his commitment to bringing laughter into medicine.  Well a few readers commented about Laughter Yoga and it made me think, “ya that’s the ticket.  That’s the kind of yoga I want to practice.”  And so it began.  I have watched a few laughter yoga videos and to be honest just watching people smile and laugh makes me jump right in on the fun.  Dr. Kataria discusses in his talk all about the amazing biological changes that occur in the body when we are laughing.  Laughter yoga incorporates “vigorous laughing, belly laughter coming from the diaphragm that is sustained for at least 10-15 minutes.”  It is laughter that is not directed but instead is spontaneous.  It is not in relation to watching anything specifically funny but instead focused on laughing for the sake of laughing.  Dr. Kataria states that this type of laughter shows an immediate activation of the para sympathetic nervous system thereby immediately reducing stress.  It has been shown to have a 28% reduction in cortisol levels (cortisol being the stress hormone that causes weight gain in the middle of the body putting stress on the heart and other organs.)  It gets you present in your body and breath immediate.  (ever run out of breath from laughing so hard? you get it!)  Laughter yoga also incorporates different techniques which also utilize clapping to hit certain energy points on the hands.  Fascinating, right?

So if laughter is so useful, why don’t we use it more often?  Well I would say that we are often so busy it can be hard to remember to laugh.  It’s a muscle and like any other muscle it needs to be worked.  Instead of waiting for instances to evoke laughter what might it be like to do it spontaneously for no apparent reason?  Have you ever found yourself with a giggle fit that you just can’t stop?  The more you laugh, the more you laugh and then others laugh with you and then maybe a group of people are laughing with you?  Hopefully your head is shaking yes!  I can be found at times in yoga classes being that person who is working hard to stop laughing!  I know I have had to leave in the past because my giggles were getting the best of me:)  See the thing is once you begin to release all the baggage of stress you are carrying around with you…laughter spontaneously comes to the surface.  It’s the old story of sadness and joy being close cousins.  Tears and smiles come after each other at times. Ever find yourself in a very difficult sad moment and after crying you laugh out loud?  That’s what I am talking about.  Our pain is covering up our joy.  Dr. Kataria would argue that we don’t have to wait for that pain to lift; we can laugh in the moment even if we don’t feel like it.  In AA
they talk about faking it until you make it.  That’s what laughter yoga is about.  Laugh even if you don’t want to because it changes you biologically even if you don’t think it will. There is a whole host of healing modalities out there.  The more we open the more we heal:)

So for today, what can you do to make yourself laugh.  Can you make the decision that you will laugh no matter what?  Even if your boss is getting on you or your co workers are driving you mad or your boyfriend/girlfriend is arguing with you?  Maybe even try in with a partner or friend…hell grab a group of people and laugh.  I find it helps so much with EVERYTHING if I can just laugh my way through it.

Cheers to having some shits and giggles today!


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