2.3 (D) Blogs on Smiling and Laughter
Laughter and Why It's So Important
So, last year, I came across a yoga class called “Laughter Yoga”. The name alone intrigued me, and I knew at some point, I had to check it out. My first thought was “what is THIS?” I mean, with all the different styles of yoga out there today, I have to say it had me curious, to say the least.
But like everything else, and for so many, it took me some time to get there. It was offered only once a month, so limited times were available. Of course, something would always come up restricting me from attending the class each month. So one month, I made it a priority. I put it on my calendar, told myself I would go, and made sure I would attend at all costs. And now, I’m reaping the benefits, and so relieved I got myself there.
It’s been noted that laughter is a great “cure” for many issues. Stress, for one, is one of the most prevalent issues damaging our bodies these days. Allowing oneself a good belly laugh increases endorphins, and helps aid in muscle relaxation. These just being a couple of the many other great benefits laughing can create.
So how does it work? Well, when you get into a good belly laugh, a great amount of oxygen gets into the system, much like yoga breathing, that stimulates and awakens the heart, lungs and surrounding muscles. At first, the body gets stimulated, and raises heart rate and blood pressure, but then as endorphins are released, the body immediately comes back to rest sending a great relaxed feeling running through your entire body.
For someone like me, with a history of anxiety, the idea of an “energetic” class made me a bit nervous. Certain styles of yogic breathing used to increase my anxiety. (Kapalabhati, for example, where you intentionally pulse the belly to get that inner fire erupted, increasing heart rate and blood pressure and use that to “get out” stress was one that used to make me nervous.) Knowing that we “fake it till you make it” sounded a bit like that idea, but the affects were definitely different here. It doesn’t bring you up, and keep you up OR bring on anxiety. You see, when in a laugh, the body is focused on the laugh, and since the mind can’t do more than two things at once, you can’t really be anxious while laughing. It’s been said that you can’t “get anxious” when concentrating on the breath either, like in kapalabhati, but those of us who have anxiety know that, it can, and in fact, does happen. Laugher is natural, not forced, and even though we sort of “force” the laughter at first, the real laughter takes over and the natural, healing affects of the body take over.
Another wonderful quality of the laughter yoga is, unlike traditional yoga where the focus is on the individual, you connect together with the people in the room. We laugh together working with each others’ energy, which is very soothing and safe. But the true gift, is the feeling that we are doing this all together. We are experiencing together, we are safe together. So, there is no fear, there is only comfort. It was an overall feeling of community, love, and understanding of one another. We may be different, but we all experience the difficulties of life together, even when we feel alone.
The best piece of this experience, was what I learned about myself. There was a section of the practice where we were guided to drape our arms down towards the floor and cry it out. (Not real crying, just acting out the tears and movement.) We were instructed to then bring our arms up over our heads and turn those tears into laughter and laugh it out. What threw me was when we were down in the crying part, with arms draped, I felt comfy. This was my comfy spot, my go-to place, my place of solace. I also found it difficult to turn those “tears” into "laughter" as we raised our arms up. Hmmmmm… This was a HUGE eye opener for me, for it was at that moment I realized I used to enjoy my sorrow. When things go wrong, I would turn to the negative instead of the positive. Ergo, I need to laugh more, and I need to smile more. I need to take life a bit less serious. While in that downward crying section, I saw my kids. I saw my husband. I saw any friend I had in the past that I became friends with “because they made me laugh”. Wow. Such an amazing "a-ha" moment! I needed to allow more laughter in my life. Just, in general, to be happier. Period. End of story.
When I left the class, I felt calm. I was relaxed, and I felt safe. I felt connected with the people I was in the room with, and the world felt a little smaller and a bit warmer to me. To top the night off, I had a great nights sleep.
Laughing is therapeutic, it is fun, and especially when we are stressed, it is necessary for overall well-being. It helps keep us positive, and brings us the warm gushy feelings inside we all deserve.
Here are just a few of the benefits of laughing:
-Reduces stress, anxiety, and depression
-Improves interpersonal relationships and connects people
-Diffuses negative thoughts and feelings
-Increases oxygen to the brain
-Enhances weight reduction
-Reduces blood pressure and heart rate
-Promotes better sleep
-Reduces pain and symptoms of chronic illnesses
-Improves digestion, and absorption of food
So grab your friends, grab your family and get gigglin’!
**Since this post was published, I have become a Laughter Yoga Leader and have incorporated a lot of these methodologies into my yoga classes. For reducing anxiety, make a list of what makes you laugh. This can be a favorite funny show or movie, a friend or friends you can call or hang out with, or a recording of a favorite comedian you enjoy, etc. When any of these aren't available, remember that you can just fake a laugh. It sound ridiculous, but the benefits outweigh doing nothing. To learn more, find a Laughter Yoga class in your area. The point is to find or create situations in your life that will allow you to let loose and laugh on a daily basis. A daily dose of laughter can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Your brain simply can't be depressed or anxious when you are laughing, and over time, you can see results in yourself. As you start to feel tension, breathe, relax your body and smile. This alone may help you. Allow yourself to feel the positive affects of a smile...then let that smile turn to laughter...
Love and peace... XO
The Smiling Experiment(Dated 4/27/2017)
As you may have read in my previous blog post, Laughter and Why its So Important, my first Laughter Yoga experience taught me a great lesson that I needed to learn about myself. The exercise that enhanced my awareness, was draping our arms down towards the ground as we basically cried it out. This was to eventually have us lift our arms up over our heads to let out laughter. The problem was, I felt so comfortable down in that crying out place, I didn’t WANT to bring my arms up over my head to laugh. I wanted to stay down there and continue to pretend to cry. It felt comfy, and it was actually work for me to lift my arms up.
This exercise taught me how comfortable I was in that place. This was a place of sadness, self-pity, and regret. It seemed that I enjoyed being in a place that kept me sad, because it was what I knew. It’s like my body was protecting itself, wanting to keep in this state, since it didn’t know or really understand the other side.
I understand that I may have created this “habit” of misery within myself at some point in my life. Somewhere down the line, I must have kicked in the self-pity and sadness about my life, and stuck with it. The feeling was so strong that even though I thought I was happy, deep inside, I really wasn’t.
Since, you can’t change what you don’t know about yourself, it was upon this moment of realization, I decided I wanted to make myself a better person. I decided that I didn’t WANT to be comfortable in sadness. I REALLY wanted to be happy. So, if you want to be happier, how do you make this change? What could I do to help make myself feel warm and fuzzy inside?
Well, to start, I continued taking the Laughter Yoga classes. Through these classes, I developed a clearer understanding about what can make someone happy. And basically, I learned that it comes from ME. (Something that we hear about a lot, but it really sunk in here.) What else did I learn from Laughter Yoga? I learned that even when we fake a smile and laugh, we can release endorphins into the body. I also know from teaching mindfulness, that when we allow negative thoughts into our mind, we can end up down a rabbit hole of negativity.
So, after about a year, it was then, I decided to do this little experiment on myself…
I knew that whatever I did, I wanted to take it slow, since anytime you change something too quickly, it would never stick. So, to start off easy, I decided to begin with just daily smiles. I knew from the class that just a smile can allow for positive changes inside the body. So, I made it a point to smile, or rather, fake a smile, 5 times a day. It didn’t matter where or when I did this, but I wanted to be sure I was going to be consistent, so I chose to smile at a memorable place. I chose every stoplight while I was driving. I figure, I was in the car every day anyway, so it would make sense that this was a good place to start, so why not? So, every time I stopped at a stoplight, I would crack a smile and hold it until the light changed. It felt funny and weird at first, but I knew it had to be beneficial in some way, so I continued on.
I’m not exactly sure how long the process took, but, it seemed to gradually have a real positive affect on me. Not only did it become easier and easier to find that smile at each stoplight, but it stopped being so “weird” and started to feel more natural.
After I started feeling comfortable smiling to myself, I decided to branch out and test this on the public. I started at the grocery store. I made it a point to start smiling at people as they walked by. An interesting phenomenon occurred. People actually smiled back! Imaging that! By smiling at others, it seemed to develop an instant connection between me and the person in front of me, even when I didn’t know them. And let me tell you, it felt pretty good inside. REALLY good inside! There were moments it seemed that my smile actually made someone’s day. This is when the experiment took off!
I then took this to an even larger level, where at every public place I would go to, I would just have a smile on my face, just to notice what would happen. Sure enough, without saying a word, people seemed to just be drawn to me to say “hello”, or “good morning”.
It may sound crazy, but during the time of this experiment, my feelings towards other people had become more and more positive. I always felt that people were judgmental and never want to be bothered, but this changed that for me, and made me look even deeper at myself.
So, what is so wonderful about all this, is that I don’t even have to force a smile anymore. My body just naturally does it now. So, I can be sitting on a chair, and my husband will walk by and ask me what I’m smiling about. I’ll be in the grocery store, and people will say “hello” to me, probably because I have a welcoming smile on my face. It seems when you really open yourself up to others, they WILL respond. I don’t have to force a smile on my face anymore, because its already there, and at stoplights, my body just naturally smiles now.
I feel happier since I’ve done this, and its amazing the connections with others I have developed. I feel more outgoing and self-confident inside. I see people differently now, and I like what I see in others. (For the most part, anyway..LOL.) My students and friends are more open, and I have much more patience and tolerance with even the difficult people in my life. Placing the emphasis on the positive instead of the negative, has eliminated a lot of the negativity from my own life. I am much happier and look forward to helping others find their own inner happiness, by using these tools in my classes.
So, give it a try. Give yourself a month or so of forcing a smile, various times during the day, and notice. Notice how the feeling of just turning up the muscles on the sides of your mouth can change you. It can bring on new forms of gratitude and love of self. It can bring on a sense of community with others, which makes us feel a part of something bigger, instead of feeling so alone.
Go out there and smile..and enjoy your beautiful day!
Love and peace.. XO