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The first time that I ever heard of laughter as medicine was when I read Dr. Norman Cousin’s book, Anatomy of an Illness.
He wrote several books about his journey back to health from heart disease and crippling arthritis. Dr. Cousins did not choose a traditional approach to healing. Rather, he took high doses of Vitamin C and watched endless hours of Marx Brothers movies and comedy television shows from his home, and found that laughter had amazing health benefits.
Laughter reduced his pain and helped him to get a good night’s sleep. It was one of his keys to healing. I was young at the time when reading, Anatomy of an Illness, but never forgot about what I read about laughter as medicine.
We hear little about Norman Cousins today, but in my mind he is among those who paved the way for a new generation of healers turning to laughter to support health. Laughing yoga clubs have blossomed around the world. These are not for yoga in the traditional sense of focusing on poses like Warrior I and Downward Facing Dog. These are clubs where people come to laugh—many of them for the purposes of healing.
Here are some examples to get the gist of laughing yoga. As a group, people often act out situations designed to induce laughter. They may imagine themselves missing a train, and rather than bursting into an angry rage, bursting into raucous laughter. Another scenario may be pretending to be stuck in a crowded elevator and instead of finding it overwhelming, finding it funny. Even children can be taught these laughing yoga strategies. Sometimes breaking into laughter after a new toy is lost makes the pain and hurt melt away.
While some people choose to attend laughter yoga classes, there are many exercises that we can do from home and reap the healing benefits of laughter. Using your own creativity and life circumstances, you can come up with some of your own. Here are a few of my personal favorites to choose from:
· When cooking, especially chopping up food, laugh as you work. If it does not feel a natural, it will over time. Faked laughter turns into real laughter with practice.
· Frustrated driving along in your car and stuck in traffic? Rather than get agitated, start laughing. It may feel silly at first, but with practice and the good feelings that come with laughter, you will find that it is not silly at all.
· Miss that important appointment? It is alright to laugh and at the same time learn from our mistakes.
· When showering, add some humor by laughing as you soap up.
· Make faces at yourself in the mirror and laugh.
· Imagine losing your keys and laughing rather than getting so upset. Laughter often calms us down so that we have the wherewithal to find our keys.
Laughing does not mean dismissing our painful feelings altogether. But taking the edge off of these feelings helps us to cope with stressful situations. So often, it is our reaction to stress that is more stressful than the triggering event. By adding laughter to the mix, we can reduce our stress levels considerably.
The importance of laughter in our lives is underscored further when we realize its many health benefits. High stress levels over time can lead to illness. Reducing stress through laughter can help us feel better and reduce pain. Laughter oxygenates our brain, and in this way, helps us feel more energetic. When we laugh, hormones called endorphins are released. These are the same hormones that are released during a “runner’s high.” Laughter has been shown to lower blood pressure. It is also beneficial to our hearts and may protect against damage to the lining of our blood vessels. Such damage can lead to inflammation and clogged arteries. Clearly, laughter holds the promise of many important health benefits.
In my training as a laughter yoga leader, I have met with people from all walks of life who were eager to participate in their own path to healing. From stressed-out city dwellers, to elderly people, to cancer survivors, participants placed themselves in a pool of endorphins for a weekend, and came out transformed. They were looking at life with much more attention to the lighter side.
Whether you create your own home-grown laughter exercises or attend more formalized laughing yoga classes, you want to make humor a more integral part of your life—to take yourself less seriously. Always look to see whatever humor can be found in any situation. Laugh at yourself, but not at the expense of others. See what changes laughter can make in your life.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ~ Hippocrates
The Importance of Laughter.
Author: June Rousso
Editor: Travis May
Photos: Flickr/Terry Pressley
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