Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine. ⎯ Lord Byron
I am lying on the floor, flat on my back, my belly convulsing. To put it scientifically, I am in the midst of a gelotoleptic fit. Or, slightly less dramatically, I am laughing. I have no clue what I am laughing at. It’s a Sunday afternoon and I have just spent the last hour having a chuckle with total strangers at a Laughter Workshop. Lottke Mikkelsen of UnitedMind is a certified Laughter Yoga Leader. She spends an hour with us, putting us through a series of gelastic gymnastics to get our funny bones engaged and our comfort zone well and truly ousted.
Humour therapy uses the physiological process of laughter to relieve physical and emotional stress. This is not a modern phenomenon. Dr William Fry became, in 1964, the first self-proclaimed ‘Gelotologist’; an expert in laughter. Norman Cousins is infamous in the medical world for his claim that the healing power of laughter therapy did for him what traditional medicine could not and effectively cured him of a severe degenerative disease. The argument is that your body cannot distinguish between real and fake laughter, ergo the benefits of fake laughter are the same as that of the genuine. Laughter reduces levels of stress hormones, suppressing our fight-or-flight response and decreasing our blood pressure.
After the workshop I demonstrate one of the tasks to my partner and he remarks that I look a little creepy. I probably do. Staring deeply into strangers’ eyes as you try to laugh out loud in a way that resembles a greeting is not your conventional weekend activity. I think of the stigma attached to laughing. How we become aware of the right and wrong way to laugh (pig snorting=no) and how laughter can be both a social bonding tool and a tool of punishment and social correction. Make a fool of yourself in front of your friends, be subject to their mockery, and it is unlikely you will make the same mistake again. Equally, we actively seek out comic relief, willing to fork out in exchange for the humour of our favourite comedians.
Lottke tells us that she makes a phone call three times a day to spend 10 minutes laughing with her fellow devotees. And so we spend the session running through exercises of faux laughter. Our final exercise requires us to lie on the floor and relax, letting the laughter flow if we feel it. There is silence for a few seconds, and then someone begins to chuckle. It’s a genuine, heartfelt, snorting laugh. It’s hard to resist, and soon I am laughing so hard that my sides are hurting. I’m no scientist, but it feels good. (BB)
- Bex Bell
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
A Laughter/Pain Case Study - http://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/norman-cousins-a-laughterpain-case-study/
Laughter Yoga - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGNOF8DVIPQ
Norman Cousins - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--CW46nYRsw#action=share
Inside the Mind: Laughter - http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/emotions/laughter7.htm