Laughter and Joy in Precarious Times

The Joy of ChildrenThere’s so much happening in the world right now, so much pain, suffering, loss, monumental changes in social, political and financial structures… and that’s not even focusing on health and wellness of our planet and the people on it.

When I think about all of that, none of it evokes laughter out of me. Yet, when I’m under stress and feeling worried, anxious and upset, I laugh. How can that be?

Simply, I am practicing Laughter Yoga.

I call Laughter Yoga my spiritual practice. And it is indeed a practice…(for those of you that are just reading about Laughter Yoga for the first time, briefly, we’re laughing for the health benefits and not because anything outside of us is funny. We’re practicing unconditional laughter, which connects us to our breath, to our bodies, to each other and to joy. Practicing laughter disengages the judgmental mind and helps us to return to our natural state of joy.)

I know you’re thinking, “How can we feel joy with so much sorrow, suffering and uncertainty around us?” It almost feels like a guilty pleasure and one that those of us who intend to be mindful, empathetic and compassionate would never let ourselves do.

Here’s the thing I’ve discovered since I began practicing in 2008, joy is a part of our essential nature. As babies we came in feeling connected to it and it’s actually vital to a healthy and balanced life.

When we cut ourselves off from joy, we limit our aliveness and connection to feeling good (and to our hearts!).

Why would we do that?

The mind tells us something is wrong, and (I believe) in our desire to help the mind that cuts us off from joy.

I have found that my mind has a judgment that joy and/or laughter is inappropriate in certain situations. It convinces me that things are serious and heavy and I need to be concerned and informed. It tells me that the proper way to feel compassion and empathy is to worry and feel heavy, sad and down for all the things that are happening on the planet that I feel concern about.

However, once you start a laughter practice you know that this is completely untrue.

Laughter is liberating and invigorating. Laughter gives you permission to meet the unexpressed emotions and stuck sensations in the body that feel heavy and confusing.

My mentor and the founder of Laughter Yoga, Madan Kataria, reminds us that when we let something affect us to the point where we don’t laugh, we let it steal our joy.

I remember one time when we were on a training call with him and he mentioned that there had been some bombings in the city that he lived in (in India). He said that as soon as it was safe they went out to the park and laughed to release the intensity of the experience and reclaim joy. He reminded us that when we don’t respond with laughter we give them (The person or the situation) our joy and we make joy conditional. Essentially, we hold joy hostage with our grief, anger, and fear.

So many of us do this… “I can be happy if this thing or that thing is happens.” “It’s OK to laugh when something is funny or makes me happy.” “I’ll let myself feel joyful when this list of things is resolved…”

And if we’ve been paying attention we know that doesn’t work. The time for feeling joy and laughing unconditionally for no reason never comes.

The judgmental mind holds us hostage to the drudgery of false beliefs, made up stories or unexpressed emotions and we go on making ourselves sick in a constant state of fight-or-flight while releasing cortisol into our systems and aging ourselves prematurely. It’s an addictive cycle and it becomes habitual and unconscious.

Babies and children feel and express joy because they can. In fact, they allow themselves to feel all of their feelings. And that is the very reason that I practice Laughter Yoga. It allows me to feel all my feelings in a safe way and in so doing it transforms the stressful, stuck energy and negative emotions back into energy. I always feel lighter, present and more peaceful after Laughter session. It’s so simple and yet so profound.

Contrary to what many people may think, you don’t have to feel happy or be in a good mood to practice Laughter Yoga.

You can feel grumpy, depressed, angry, tired, despondent, sad, happy, agitated… It really doesn’t matter. Laughter Yoga is a practice, and like any practice it’s something you just keep returning to over and over. To me, it is mindfulness in its highest form.

By practicing laughter we are rewiring our nervous system to expand its capacity to feel joy. We are reprogramming our neural pathways to respond to stress through laughter, and eventually things that were once very serious become funny because we don’t let them steal our joy or dictate how we should feel.

When we laugh instead of get stressed, it is the most powerful medicine we can give ourselves!

The scientific evidence shows that the body doesn’t know the difference between simulated laughter and the real thing, so it releases dopamine and serotonin (those are happiness chemicals!!) and we feel better, even if nothing is funny or if we’ve had the worst day before that time.

I recommend anyone try it at least once. Maybe it’s not a fit for you, though you’ll never know unless you try. There are plenty of videos online to check out. Or if you live in a big city I guarantee there’s at least one Laughter Yoga class going on. Just do a search on Laughter Yoga in your area and you should be able to find something. (And if you’re reading this online you have access to the Internet, so no excuses.)

If you’re ready to feel more alive, happier and more joyful and sleep better at night (just one of the many benefits!) then I recommend you try it out!