Take a minute and have a chuckle. Haha. Hoho. It may seem like a strange thing to do, but it’s at the root of something that’s very good for you. Laughing improves our psychological and physical health. It does such a good job that formal therapeutic laughter programs have cropped up, inspiring people to take advantage of the physiological changes that occur in the mind and body when we laugh. What’s really funny about it: Laughing produces the same positive effects on the body whether it’s real or simulated (as in the exercise above). Even if you’re not really “feeling” the humor at first, you can fake it—and that simulation often leads to the real thing, says Teresa Verde, a “laughter leader” and “laughter yoga” practitioner in Seattle, who explains why laughter is good for us and how to get more of it…
WHAT LAUGHING DOES FOR US
Let’s face it, laughing feels great. In addition to the psychological lift, it does our bodies a world of good. In a sense, laughing is like exercise—it boosts the immune system, aids digestion and improves cardiovascular and lung function. It’s also believed to raise levels of good cholesterol and reduce pain, inflammation, blood pressure and stress hormone levels. When we laugh, we release endorphins, chemicals that function as neurotransmitters and block pain receptors in the brain.
LAUGHING EN MASSE
Conducted in a group, laughter yoga, as it’s called, is designed to get people laughing together. Laughing is contagious, and laughing with other people is easy to do. Laughter yoga, which was created by a physician in 1995, uses the word “yoga” because this mind-body technique incorporates gentle stretching and yoga-type breathing. It also involves chanting and playful exercises such as slapping your knee and chanting “hoho hahaha” at someone else…shaking hands with others and laughing…and laughing while performing imaginary activities, such as making a phone call. These exercises might not seem particularly humorous as described, but in a group making eye contact and performing silly antics, the laughter soon becomes real. The group might laugh together for about 40 to 60 seconds, which is much longer than laughter following a joke, which is usually about 2.5 seconds.
YES, YOU CAN LAUGH ALONE
Laughter yoga instructors encourage people to laugh on their own. In addition to watching comedies or listening to a comedian, there are other ways to get more laughter in your life. You can spend time with children and pets, both of whom are uninhibitedly silly…socialize with people whose company you enjoy (laughter often follows naturally) or make your own private jokes (giving your car a funny name…inventing your own dance…wearing silly socks). It also can help to keep a journal of humorous incidents to refer to when you need a chuckle. Or recall a statement someone made that got you laughing.
You also can try this exercise: Immediately after waking up in the morning, look in the mirror and laugh. Begin with 10 or 20 seconds, and try to work your way up to two minutes, if you can. Again, feel free to fake it at first. That will get you going. This exercise gives you an energy boost…relieves stress…and helps you feel good all day long.
Laughter yoga clubs, as they are called, are becoming more common than you might think. To find one in your area and to learn more about laughter yoga, go to www.LaughterYoga.org.