Have you ever had ‘turn that frown upside-down’ said to you by some well-meaning individual when you were smack-dab in the middle of feeling anything but? Or have you had someone tickle you, make a funny face, or tell you a joke in an attempt to make you laugh and break the current state you were in.
More than likely all you really wanted to do at that point was smack that particular purveyor of joy so that their face resembled yours. Well, you’re probably much kinder than I’ve been on occasion, because that is indeed what I felt like doing.
In the Webster dictionary the word laugh is defined as showing:
“… mirth, satisfaction, or derision, by peculiar movement of the muscles of the face, particularly of the mouth, causing a lighting up of the face and eyes, and usually accompanied by the emission of explosive or chuckling sounds from the chest and throat; to indulge in laughter.”
Can smiling or laughing really change the state of play in your world, when that world seems adversarial and bleak?
“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward”. Kurt Vonnegut
BELLY LAUGHTER AND THE MARX BROTHERS TO THE RESCUE
In 1969 Norm Cousins, the respected editor of the Saturday Review, was given six months to live. He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis a painful degenerative disease of the spine. In constant agony and quickly losing his mobility, Cousins checked himself out of hospital and into a hotel under the supervision of a doctor. He began taking high doses of both Vitamin C and belly laughter.
Laughter, Cousins found, was the only way to stop the constancy of his pain. This medication was injected via old Marx Brothers movies and Candid Camera reruns (a contemporary equivalent would be Ashton Kutcher’s Punked show).
After several months and daily doses of belly laughter Cousins walked out of the hotel and lived another twenty-six years.
Back then Cousins’ assertions about the benefits of laughter were derided by the medical profession as nothing short of preposterous. Another few decades would go by before someone from the medical profession would dust off Cousins’ claim and bring its possibilities to the light of day.
THE YOGA OF LAUGHTER
In 1995 Dr. Madan Kataria, a gastroenterologist from Mumbai, started experimenting with Cousins’ assertion. Through trial and error he convinced groups of individuals that they didn’t need a reason (like joke telling) to laugh. Kataria learned that he could gather a group of people together, ask them to laugh and they were able to do just that – Laugh!
If someone in the group hesitated, he’d just asked them to “fake it”. He found that even if the laughter was initially forced or ‘faked’ it would eventually build into the real thing.
By simply fooling their bodies into laughter Kataria found that pretty soon the whole group were in fits of authentic laughter. Today, his Laughter Yoga has spread to over forty countries. THE
BODY POLITIC OF LAUGHTER
“Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects”. Arnold Glasow
Telling us to smile let alone laugh when our view of the world appears to give us nothing to be cheery about is a very tall order.
However, that is what science is telling us to do. Not as a reaction but as prevention to what ails us. Research and psychiatrist William Fry, is someone who has looked at the health benefits of what he call ‘mirthful laughter’. In a series of studies during his 50 year career Fry found that laughter stimulates our immune system, energizes the brain, exercises our muscles, increases circulation and reduces the number of stress hormones coursing through our bodies.
HOW TO BEGIN
So how do you begin to laugh when we feel there is absolutely nothing funny in our lives?
I’m not suggesting that we all run out and join a Laughter Yoga group. We could simply start in the privacy in our own homes with a small, then bigger and bigger smile. After that it’s a case of forcing our breath out and beginning to make small sounds. Sounds like a cackle, chortle, chuckle, giggle, guffaw, har-de-har, snigger, teehee or titter. We do that until those sounds turn into peals, shrieks and snorts.
Wherever we start isn’t the issue. The issue is that we start.
When I need to lighten-up my focus on what I think isn’t going according to plan in my life I turn to comedic movies as the catalyst for the anatomic epiglottis constricting of my larynx – in other words laughter. There is no right way to do anything. Find what works for you.
The old saying is that you can’t smile (laugh) and frown at the same time. It’s just impossible.
Laughter has the ability to not only help you mend, but prevent you from breaking in the first place.
Laughter has the ability to change, even if only momentarily, your view on what is going on in your life. And in that moment your perception is changed forever.
As Katherine Mansfield says:
“Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. Life would undergo a change of appearance because we ourselves had undergone a change of attitude”.
In the American Scientist magazine in 1996 neuroscientist Robert Provine cited an extreme example of how contagious laughter can be. In 1962 there was an outbreak of contagious laughter in Tanganyika. It started with the hysterics of a group of twelve to eighteen-year-old schoolgirls and quickly spread from one individual to another, ultimately effecting adjacent communities. The effects were so severe it required the closing of schools and lasted for six months.
Laughter just might be a contagion worth catching and passing on!
Robert R. Provine, American Scientist 84. 1 (Jan-Feb, 1996): 38-47. © Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society 1996
Dr. Madan Kataria, http://www.laughteryoga.org