"I would say laughter is the best medicine. But it’s more than that. It’s an entire regimen of antibiotics and steroids. Laughter brings the swelling down on our national psyche and then applies an antibiotic cream. You gotta keep it away from your eyes though.”
- Stephen Colbert
I teach a restorative yoga class every Wednesday evening. The class has become very special to me as many of the students are new to yoga and come with a raw desire to learn. One night a couple stayed after class and told me the story about how one of their children recently died. They told me all the various tools they were using to deal with their loss – one of which was yoga. They said the mindfulness themed class I had taught that week helped them process some of the work they were doing elsewhere. It is rare for people you barely know to share so much – and I was honored.
In addition to this grieving couple, I have several friends who have lost loved ones, or are caring for parents with serious illnesses. Finally, there has been a lot of angst expressed on social media over the current administration and the world’s future.
Could there be some way for all these folks to find peace, even briefly? As I prepared for my next restorative yoga class, I decided to find a way to help my students escape even for a moment, from their challenges.
Of course, my teenage son interrupted my “save the world” thought process by showing me one of the funny Biden memes he found on reddit. Meme viewing has become a national pastime these days – probably because we all need a laugh.
I thought back to my yoga teacher training and a session on Laughter Yoga taught by one of my favorite teachers Libby Piper. I decided to investigate adding some of the concepts of Laughter Yoga into my next restorative yoga class.
But before I could do anything, I needed to get some facts. So I searched PubMed and found a recent article by Jong Eun Yim titled: “Therapeutic Benefits of Laugher in Mental Health”. The article states that laughter therapy “has a positive effect on mental health and the immune system.”
Yim goes on to say that laughter provides the following five benefits:
Wow. Could laughing at silly memes, or at movies, books or websites replace Xanax as a cure for stress and anxiety?
After reading Yim’s article, I decided to search for the funniest movies, books and websites / apps to share with those in need of a laugh (which is all of us as it turns out):
Funniest movies of all time based on a Forbes article from 9/21/2012 which measured laughs per minute. A few of the top laughter inducing movies were:
Funniest books of all time based on a Huffington Post 11/4/15 article from 11/4/15 which listed top funny books, three of which were:
Funniest Website / Apps based on feedback from Facebook friends and family:
After experiencing the benefits of laughter from consulting the lists above, I googled laughter yoga so I could better describe it during my next restorative yoga class.
Laughter yoga is a yoga practice that uses laughter, simulated laughter breathing, smiling and memories of laughter inducing situations to provide experiences that enhance mood and alleviate stress. A description of some of the techniques follows:
So I took all this information into my Restorative Yoga class last Wednesday. I introduced the laughter yoga techniques to the students in combination with a light music playlist and quotes that described the benefits of laughter. After initial hesitance, the group began to use the simulated laughter breath without instruction and when we got to the happy baby sequence, they let out a spontaneous hearty belly laugh.
At the end of class the group’s energy was lighter, and I had several students express how they felt more relaxed and peaceful. I even enjoyed a laugh with the couple I mentioned earlier, as they described how they plan on doing yoga on the beach during their upcoming vacation.
Since then, I have been introducing laughter yoga into my yoga classes by encouraging yogis to smile during difficult poses like chair, or laugh in the Happy Baby posture. As a result the classes have been more fun and the energy more relaxed. Hopefully the moments of laughter will help students better navigate the stressors on their journey.
Because as it turns out - we have at least 5 good reasons to laugh now.
How might you use laughter’s medicinal benefits to bring more joy and peace to your journey?
“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” - e.e.cummings