Health Tips - The Mind, Body Connection
There is an in-built mechanism for relaxation unique to the human being: the human being is the only animal who laughs and can laugh heartily. Laughter, even deliberately induced laughter, not only provides emotional satisfaction, but also significant physiological benefits and relaxation. The basis of laughter is a deep inhalation followed by rhythmic exhalation, especially using the diaphragm, the large muscle mass in the body that separates the abdominal and chest cavities. This helps equalize the pressures in both the cavities and apart from aiding venous drainage, also causes massage to the internal organs.
There are four types of laughter described by health practitioners that can be beneficial (people with heart or lung problems or high blood pressure should use caution):
a) ‘Etiquette laughter’ starts with a smile and extends to mild laughter, with no special attention to breathing. The tempo gradually builds up.
b) In ‘pigeon laughter’, a deeper inhalation is done and, keeping the mouth shut, you produce laughter making the sounds like hums of pigeons. This is an internal laughter and has its own advantages.
c) ‘Soundless laughter’ is the most difficult to learn, but very effective. Take a very deep in-breath, and then open the mouth and put the tongue out and let laughter out – but without making any sound! Also, after one inhalation you can exhale as long as possible, with rhythmic jerks to the diaphragm; this ‘inner jogging’ is vigorous and exhausting.
d) ‘Belly laughter’ is similar to the soundless laughter, but you let go and laugh loudly – even rolling on the floor or doubling up. Repeated in-breaths are needed and this can last for as long as you like.
Excerpted from Peace & Harmony in Daily Living by Ramesh Balsekar
What follows next is our laughter meditation. It’s called Deliberate Laughter.
We sit in chairs making eye contact and because of the contagious nature of Laughter, the laughter flows like a fountain without any reason. It’s unstoppable, belly rippling, tears in your eyes , uproarious and your sides will start aching. This is why it’s called Laughter Meditation.
Lastly, our relaxation meditation.
Only a few decades ago, medical students were taught to view the body as a machine whose parts would inevitably break down until it could no longer be repaired. Today science is arriving at a radically different understanding: While the body appears to be material, it is really a field of energy and intelligence that is inextricably connected to the mind. All of the thoughts, perceptions, memories, emotions, and feelings in our mind influence every cell of our body. When we have a loving thought or focus on a happy memory or feeling, our brain triggers a cascade of molecules that promote wellbeing in our physiology. On the other hand, when we hold onto emotions such as anger, fear, and doubt, this creates stress and damage in the body.
Through a relaxation meditation, we can reverse the effects of accumulated stress and toxicity. Meditation takes us into inner silence, allowing the body to restore balance and repair itself.
When we finish our relaxation meditation the floor is then open to sharing.
Laughter is the music of life, next to chocolate, but that’s another story.
“I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose”.
Another fun-tastic benefit to laugh for no reason.
The Effects of Laughter on the Human Brain
Laughter is defined as the act of “making sounds from the throat while breathing out in short bursts or gasps as a way of expressing amusement”, according to the Encarta Dictionary. Studying laughter is difficult since it doesn’t occur easily or naturally in the laboratory setting.
Studying gelotology, the science of laughter, and knowing the effects that laughter has on the brain could prove valuable in the treatment of depression and other mood-related disorders.
One of my Laughter Yoga participants at Sackville Hill Senior’s Recreation Centre mentioned that she had been struggling with depression for quite some time.
“The first week I had trouble remembering what it was like to laugh. Now, after several weeks, it has become easier to smile and laugh. I sincerely thank you for the positive difference you have made in my life.”
When people were given humorous material after being hooked up to a machine measuring brain activity, laughter resulted when a negatively charged electrical impulse traveled through the cerebral cortex and stimulated a primitive part of the brain called the limbic system. The limbic system is involved in all emotions, including laughter, as well as basic functions required for survival. The amygdala and the hippocampus are the two limbic structures playing a role in laughter. Dysfunction in the amygdala region of the brain has been linked to disorders such as depression, Parkinson’s and fragile-X syndrome, a disorder often marked by symptoms similar to attention deficit disorder and autism. Problems with the hippocampus result in mental illnesses including Alzheimers, schizophrenia and severe depression.
Steven Small, professor in neurology and psychology, argues that the contagious nature of laughter is caused by mirror neurons or “brain cells that become active when an organism is watching an expression or behavior that they themselves can perform.” If you see someone laughing, even if you don’t know why they are laughing, you may laugh anyway. The imitative behavior is due to the mirror neurons being stimulated.
Laughter is the best medicine for reducing stress hormones produced in the hypothalamus section of the brain, lowering blood pressure, reducing risk of heart attack and stroke. It affects the brain cognitively, increasing your intelligence, improving your memory and ability to process information. Finally, lowering stress hormones by laughing improves your immune system by generating more disease fighting cells.
Laughter Yoga helped Diane to be free of all depression medication and is saving over $400 each month. She sleeps better and people tell her she looks great. Read her story on how her life has undergone a remarkable change.
Laughter is too important to leave up to chance and conditions – join us to connect with your child-like playfulness and have a fun workout while laughing unconditionally to de-stress, play, sing, dance and to empty your mind and be in the present moment.
You’ll be glad you did, especially if you didn’t feel like laughing.