Have you had a good laugh lately? I mean a really good – deep, healing within – laugh?
Years ago, I ran across a group practicing “laughter yoga” and found myself fascinated. As I watched, I couldn’t help but smile, because – of course – laughter is infectious. Developed by Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria, this approach to yoga is now a worldwide movement that has caught the attention of health researchers around the globe. A recent study on the effect of laughter on memory and stress levels found a wide range of health benefits including memory improvement and lower stress
Cheryl Ann Oberg from Calgary has seen many of these benefits. A member of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humour, she is a clown therapist at the Calgary Children’s Hospital. She also shares her gift of humour at conferences as a keynote speaker, and has worked with people in many walks of life – from business executives to religious groups, seniors in care facilities, children in hospital, mental health patients and those with Alzheimer’s. ….
Oberg makes the point that discovering our inner joy is to realize we have an internal medicine cabinet that can bring a great deal of health to our lives. “When engaged in pure, mirthful laughter, we cannot feel anger, resentment or fear at the same time,” she observes, adding that laughter is an “inner healer.”
Sometimes the overwhelming events in our lives tend to block out a sense of joy and we forget to tend to the health-giving laughter that is within us. St. Paul emphasized the need to cherish this spiritual quality. He said, “The Spirit, however, produces in human life fruits such as these: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, fidelity, tolerance and self-control – and no law exists against any of them.” I take note that joy is so important it is second on the list, next to love. And when we see it as innate to our being, then we can also hold to the idea that human conditions do not have the power to remove that innate joy or our capacity for laughter.
Oberg agrees. “I am often working with families who have someone in hospital and are at their most vulnerable.” Her experiences show that bringing joy into their stressed lives is strengthening. It was true for her as well when some years ago she was T-boned in a car accident in Calgary. Taken to hospital, she was diagnosed with a severely broken back as well as serious head injuries. She saw this as her opportunity to use what she knew about laughter and its effect on pain. Forgoing the use of pain-killers, she found that the practice of laughter yoga kept her from feeling pain for several hours at a time. She walked out of the hospital after a few days and successfully overcame the effects of the accident without the use of painkillers.
Oberg’s pioneering work on laughter therapy and contribution to her community over two decades has placed her on the Alberta Wall of Fame at the Alberta Legislative Building in Edmonton; the only non-politician to be recognized in this way.
Situations such as those Oberg works in are exactly why Dr. Kataria created laughter yoga. It started as a laughing group with his friends to relieve the stress of his medical practice but grew into a worldwide movement. In an interview on Discovery Channel, he pinpointed why he feels it works: “Laughter doesn’t fix your problems, it helps to dissolve the problem so that you can think better and find answers.”
Laughter can act as a clearing action. While I am not advocating a Pollyanna approach to life, I’m convinced that ruminating on a problem and fearing it will do nothing to dissolve or heal it, but rather tends to block joy and hold us in the unhappiness and pain. Laughter breaks that hold, connects us with the joy and allows us to experience life and health in new and different ways.
It apparently makes no difference to health outcomes whether we join a laughing group, enjoy the sound of a baby chuckling or take in a funny movie. Any activity that engages our innate joy is great medicine and the side effects are only beneficial. So go ahead, have a healthy laugh any style; not only on Sunday but every day and everywhere.