Practicing laughter as a spiritual discipline?
by Bob Banner
For those of you who have never experienced a laughter yoga session I will say a few words - its aerobic, it includes lots of laughter, breathing, clapping and it cuts through the ego façade of control. Laughing is a way to alter that controlling ego even if it is faking laughter, since faking can often lead to infectious genuine laughter. It's a good type of peer pressure much like all the other types of activities that encourage practice whether it's practicing stretching, painting, parenting, writing, a form of breathing, meditation… it's all around us. We practice. And often we practice together for that good peer pressure. But who would have thought about practicing laughter? I imagine its a challenge to get our heads around it… we have this sense of reality that we ought not have to practice laughter. I mean gimme a break, I can hear some people say. You need to be pretty low down in the gutter before you have to start practicing laughing. Geesh...
Somehow laughing has become sacrosanct, its way beyond practicing, sort of like sex… we don't have to practice sex. We just keep doing it the same way until our partner decides to leave us… and try to talk about our sexual behavior!!? But that's another story!
Granted, right now there's much in the media about the health benefits of laughter but it only focuses on the typical laughter we do, the periodic laughter, once in a while laughter usually from the outside - jokes, films, stunts, cartoons - which is fine but it mentions hardly a word about laughter as practice. When I discovered that an adult laughs an average 15 times a day compared to 300 to 400 laughs per day for children, I sighed.
The wonderful aspect about laughter yoga is that it is sustained/prolonged laughter. That's what's going to give us the benefits - the increased endorphins and happy chemicals. And since our culture currently has a good focus on health, then the thinking may go to keep using that as a way to encourage the movement to spread. However, mental health is still not that popular, yet if we use terms and phrases like:
1. A calm mind in the midst of chaos, or
2. That self-love is crucial for loving others, or
3. That sense of feeling no longer separate from others, or
4. Feeling noncompetitive and that collaboration and cooperation can actually feel good, or
5. Feeling “happy,” or
6. Sociability and that laughing is a great icebreaker and allows for conviviality and a politeness and kindness that might move beyond mere tolerance even though tolerance is indeed a high place to achieve, or
7. Being grounded in a sense of joy even in times of adversity.
So, you can see how the mental health benefits are wonderful indeed and tie in with the physical health benefits. But the culture at large still assumes a major rift between body and mind. I recall being interviewed by the Chicago Tribune and they asked me why I was in training to become a laughter yoga teacher and I said that laughing chipped away at my almost constant judging of people. She commented that that's a rare thing to admit. I told her that it was the truth (the article never mentioned it but only the physical health benefits… perhaps it might take longer to possibly connect that our physical ailments may have much to do with our mental ideas and beliefs). It's no wonder the yoga movement in the US focuses much more on physical postures and less about pursuing joy. But that's where laughter yoga can have a place among all the other practice exercises that are out there, whether it's holotropic breathwork, Vipassana meditation, all the varieties of yoga (kundalini, hatha, etc.). I prefer to call laughter yoga a form of Kindaluni yoga where we don't take ourselves too seriously on the path toward spirituality or simple mental health.
We/I need to ask what is the result of all these forms of practices? To be proficient? To be more control or less in control? To be happy and more joyful where we/I have more choices in determining moods and responses to various challenging situations? To be more resilient?
Lately, because of practicing laughter I now have more choices in my responses. Just the other day I had the experience where feeling negative was the most righteous behavior to inhabit and exhibit; but something shifted. I laughed. It was a bit of a fake one at first but then gradually grew into a hearty laugh. It's like the most precious gift I have been given and that I have given myself and now I simply want to write about it and share this extraordinary phenomenon with others.
Perhaps the trend will move toward practicing laughter as a spiritual disciple. Like people are now more conscious of their body postures and their breath because of the enthusiastic response to yoga, perhaps we would be hearing more laughter in board rooms, out in the streets, in homes, cafes. Wouldn't it be the most fun spiritual practice that might ever be around? Can you imagine?
And wouldn't that be terrific!
Bob Banner is a certified Laughter Yoga Teacher (leading sessions throughout San Luis Obispo county). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.