The Best Medicine Indeed!
At Pamela Venus’ yoga class in Lakewood, Ohio, people bow to one another, a common yoga practice which represents saluting the presence of God in one another. However, in Venus’ yoga class, instead of repeating Namaste, the Sanskrit word which usually accompanies the bow, participants whose ages range from 16 to 80, erupt into synchronized laughter.
A strand of yoga founded in Mumbai, India in 1995, by Physician Madan Katari, Laughter Yoga, which has been written about in TIME, the New Yorker, and National Geographic, is a practice which combines traditional yogic poses and yogic breathing with prolonged periods of laughter. The laughter in this practice is intended to enhance yoga’s benefits of lowered stress, decreased depression and improved overall health.
This notion of laughter reaping psychological and even physiological benefits hasn’t only been incorporated into yoga, but into clubs, appropriately called Laughter Clubs. There’s also Laughter Therapy, a type of psychotherapy revolving around appropriate laughter in response to everyday difficulties and even trauma.
Perhaps these techniques and practices seem too silly for one to take seriously. However, such laughter-based practices haven’t only become popular, but have spawned a branch of well-respected science: Gelotology, or the study of laughter.
Upon entering such phrases as “the benefits of laughter” or “laughter therapy” into any search engine, one discovers that among the thousands of articles, blog posts and even websites praising laughter are a number of reputable sites and magazines such as webmd.com and Psychology Today. Even Wikipedia devotes an entire page to listing and documenting the numerous benefits of laughter.
What, specifically, one might wonder, are the specific benefits of laughter?
In addition to the physical benefits which are numerous and include alleviating arthritic pain and increasing heart-health, the psychological and biochemical benefits include enhanced mood, cooling of anger and increased optimism.
According to psychologist Nando Pelusi, in a March 1, 2004 Psychology Today article, “Cultivating a humorous mindset helps you see yourself and any situation with a more supple mind so that you’re not locked into a negative view.” Pelusi goes on to talk about the power of using exaggeration to laugh at yourself and your own dramatic reactions to things. Talking about failing at an audition, or in relationships, he advises “Find the humor by saying, this makes me an utter wretch, a failure now and forever, a doomed and worthless subhuman, because I didn’t get the part that I wanted or my partner isn’t giving me the attention I want. Get into the exaggeration until you see the absurdity of seeing yourself as a ‘total failure.’”
However, this sense of humor isn’t only something to be summoned during difficult times, but a quality which we can call forth into our daily lives. In the workplace, for example, humor is beneficial to employers and employees both.
But what if you aren’t able to see the humor in the hard times? What if you can’t find the humorous exaggeration of your failures? And what if your boss just isn’t that funny? According to Pelusi, there are many other ways to cultivate a humorous outlook. Some examples he gives are the famous one of imagining a room full of people without their clothes on. Another suggestion he gives is to smile. Sometimes the act of smiling can trick the mind and the body into a state of amusement. Finally, try to see your life as a romantic comedy, rather than a heavy drama. You may not succeed all the time. However, maintaining the intention to lighten up can point you in the direction of a more upbeat perspective.