It’s been a tough week – the shocking news of bombings at the Boston Marathon, a deadly earthquake in Iran, and the fiery explosions in Texas. I was looking for something fun or funny to ease the drama when I remembered the lady I had seen years ago who laughed for a living. She had one of the weirdest jobs in the world. I had seen a video in which she sat in the middle of an audience. I never saw what was happening on stage but after a few minutes this lady started to giggle. The people directly beside her smiled. She laughed a little harder, they started to giggle and those near them started to smile. And so it went, until she had the whole audience laughing hysterically, me included!
But then, have you ever watched a baby laugh and not been able to laugh along with him? Impossible! It’s the best kind of ‘infectious’ you can have. It turns out that laughing is good for you. No, I mean really good for you. It benefits you physically, boosting your immunity; lowering stress; decreasing pain; and relaxing muscles. Mentally it eases anxiety and fear, relieves stress, and improves mood. At the same time it strengthens relationships and attracts others to us. Psychologist Melinda Smith, M.A., and psychotherapist Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. describe the details in their wonderful article <em><a title="Laughter is the best medicine" href="http://www.helpguide.org/life/humor_laughter_health.htm" target="_blank">Laughter is the Best Medicine.</a></em>
Nowadays you can join a Laughter Yoga group, started originally in India by Dr Madan Kataria, a Mumbai-based general practitioner. He was inspired by the work done by Dr. Hunter 'Patch' Adams (played by actor Robin Williams in the 1998 film Patch Adams), who developed laughter therapy over 35 years ago at the Gesundheit Institute in Virginia, USA.
I was invited to experience a Laughter Yoga session sometime ago by my friend Marguerite Orane. She had just been trained and wanted to practice her new skill. I never made it to the session because, and I say this sheepishly now, it sounded silly. Who just goes from ‘normal’ to ‘laughing’ without a joke or some other funny incident preceding it? I mean, really?
Then recently I read an article by Dr. James Gordon the founder and director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine based in Washington, DC., and here’s a link to an interview he did with Neal Conan on National Public Radio. It’s all about his most recent visit to help Syrian refugees and his interaction with one young man in particular. The young man had been a college student but now rarely left his tent or talked with anyone. Dr. Gordon asked what he did on his own in the tent.
“And he said, well, the images of being tortured - and he was strung up and badly beaten, and electrical wires were applied, and he was tortured on his genitals and all over his body - he said those images keep coming. And I said all the time? He said yes, they're there with me all the time.”
Dr. Gordon asked him to do an experiment with him, to see if “at least for a moment you can free yourself.” The young man agreed and followed along as Dr. Gordon taught him how to laugh. The men and women who had gathered around also joined in laughing heartily.
“And afterwards I could just see his body, which had been incredibly tense, begin to relax a little. And a, kind of, smile came onto his face and onto the faces of others. And he said, well, you know, at least for a moment it wasn't there.”
How is your funny bone doing? Is it broken? Have you had a good belly laugh lately? Maybe it’s time. If you don’t have a laughter group near you, or funny friends to tickle that bone, rent a comedy movie. Norman Cousins, the late editor of The Saturday Review used the comedies of the Marx Brothers to generate ten minutes of genuine belly laughter and cured himself of ankylosing spondylitis. It is a severe connective tissue disease where the body just wastes away. You can read about it in his best-selling book, Anatomy of an Illness.
Hey, have you heard the joke about…
By the way, when you find some good jokes, share them with the rest of us on the Facebook page.