Everybody knows the expression, but far too few appreciate its truth. No one would argue that laughter is a good thing, but what I learned at the Laugha Yoga Leader Certification, held at the Yogaville Satchidananda Ashram in Buckingham, Virginia this past weekend was just how good a thing it really is. What has long been held as an assumption is now backed up by solid science. Laughter benefits our health in ways that are real, measurable and proven. To name a few–it lowers blood pressure and stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, decreases elevated blood sugar, anxiety and depression, it boosts the immune system and the production of dopamine, the body’s natural hormone of bliss and serotonin, the hormone of tranquility. It lowers the risk for heart attacks and arrhythmias, uses muscles that strengthen the core and lower back, and helps the body produce endorphins and enkephalons, the body’s natural pain killers. It also increases the intake of oxygen which has a calming affect on the mind and the body. If it’s not the cure-all, it sure is a good place to start, and not only is it instantly available at all times, but it’s free! So then why aren’t we all laughing all of the time?
Enter Bharata Wingham and Laugha Yoga, part of a worldwide movement with one simple goal–to help people everywhere laugh more. That’s it! As we move from infancy to adulthood, we become increasingly distant from the well of joy and spontaneous laughter that we know as babies and small children. We learn the unwritten rules of the appropriate expression of this joy, such as –don’t laugh in church, at the dinner table, while the teacher is talking, or while you’ve got food in your mouth. We learn to clamp it down, stifle it, suppress it, press “mute” on our own happy button. The opportunities for laughter grow narrower, until without even realizing it, it becomes an increasingly smaller part of our lives. Spontaneous laughter disappears almost entirely from the landscape of appropriate behavior, and we find ourselves laughing only as a reaction to something else. One of the greatest revelations for me this weekend was that we don’t have to have any reason to do it, we don’t have to be reacting to a situation or a joke–we can laugh just for the sake of it! Or to put it another way, laugh for our own sake. Bharata showed us how to lead groups in organized sessions, creating a space where people can let go and open up to the joy and benefits of this magic gift that every human possesses. About an hour in length, these classes consist of a faced- paced succession of games that include clapping, eye contact and a child-like playfulness, all towards the goal of simply helping everyone to laugh. It doesn’t take much to get a room full of people going, no matter how silly it gets. Laughter is extremely infectious. If everyone around you is in stitches it’s hard not to crack up yourself. But here’s another thing–even if you don’t think it’s funny, you can still get the full benefit from laughter even if you’re faking it! Chances are though, if you’re fake laughing, you’re going to be laughing for real in a very short time–at yourself. That’s okay–whatever works! Do it to help not only yourself but the whole world–laugh well, laugh often and laugh with your whole heart–the more the better. And that’s no joke!