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Summary:  Learn some of the many benefits of laughter and smiling, including making serotonin to boost our mood and memory and oxytocin to help us feel connection to others. Laughter really is the best medicine. Experience two Laughter Yoga practices to feel it for yourself! Join host Pamela Stokes for this third episode in the Mental Health Month series. 

Topics:

  • [00:00] Introduction and Benefits of Laughter
  • [03:15] Science of Laughter Yoga (from Dr. Madan Katarian)
  • [07:38] Motions – Cold Engine and Pull Cord Laugh

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Transcript: 

[00:00] Introduction and Benefits of Laughter

Hello, my friends. Pamela here. Thanks for joining me. Today is the third episode in our Mental Health Awareness Month series and we’re going to be talking about laughter and smiling, one of my favorite things to do. The benefits of laughter are enumerable, but I’m going to give you a few. One of the things about laughter is because it happens on a long slow exhale, ha ha ha ha ha ha, that’s all exhale, we are actually stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system. Now you may remember from a previous episode, the parasympathetic nervous system is the one that allows us to rest, digest, and create, so this is a really important feature of laughter. Another thing that laughter does is it allows us to massage our internal organs. Every time you laugh, your diaphragm, that’s the muscle below your lungs, that muscle is moving up and down. And when it’s moving, it’s moving the organs around it. Moving the liver for example, and the intestines, and the stomach in gentle ways, and this allows (this movement) allows the tissues, which are surrounding the organs and moving through the organs, the fascia—we’ve talked about fascia before, it’s the connective tissue, it’s everywhere in our body—and when we can move the organs like this, we’re actually giving them a little massage and allowing the fascia to slip and slide over itself, which brings in water from between the cells. So we’re hydrating our fascia, and hydrated fascia equals everything’s OK in our nervous system. It’s also an indicator that we are healthy and well. In fact, dry fascia means aging, so we could even say that this is anti-aging. So it’s massaging the organs when we laugh. We’re using that parasympathetic breath on the exhale when we laugh, and we are making happy brain chemicals because we’re creating a smile on our face. We talked about happy brain chemicals in the first episode of this series. You should check that out. And when we produce these happy brain chemicals, we feel better. We feel happy. 

[03:15] Science of Laughter Yoga

So even if you are laughing for no reason, not because something’s funny, but because you’re making yourself laugh, you can stimulate the production of these happy brain chemicals. It’s true. There have been studies done on the process called Laughter Yoga, which was developed by a physician named Dr. Madan Kataria. And there are groups all over the world who are doing Laughter Yoga. They involve some yoga movements, but also the laughter. And it’s a group process and people get pretty silly and they have a lot of fun. So investigate it for yourself and see if there’s a group that you could join if you’re interested. When we laugh together, when we smile together, we are creating oxytocin. And we talked about oxytocin in the previous episode. This is the bonding chemical. This is a chemical that turns down the fear response in our brain. It actually stimulates the amygdala and says, “Everything’s OK. There’s nothing to fear. So it’s a very important molecule, oxytocin, for that reason. And when we smile, we are stimulating the facial nerve, which is part of our Social Engagement System, which again tells us that it’s OK. It’s safe to be around other people. And we feel better because we’re a social species—we’re supposed to be around people. And I know right now is different because we’re in this situation in the world, and the pandemic and all of that, and we’re not as often being around other people. And we can’t really see each other smile in our face, but we can feel it when we do. So even though we may not see another person smile, we can feel our own, and that is actually stimulating this really good feeling. So laughing and smiling are actually really good for us, even if we don’t feel like doing it. A study was done with the idea of this, using a pen. They put the pen between the teeth so that it forced a smile, and they looked at the before and after of doing this process. This was a study that was actually done just to see, but even if a fake smile would do anything. And sure enough it did. So it turns down the stress response. The cortisol was reduced, the indicators of stress were reduced. So certainly even a fake smile can be helpful. And then the laughing. Laughter Yoga has been studied as well, and it has shown to be helpful for populations that are experiencing dementia, like the Alzheimer’s population. And it helps to create more social connection between these people, and it also improves memory. So there’s, again, these are chemicals that are getting made—these happy brain chemicals. One of them is serotonin, which we produce when we smile, that increases our ability to remember things. So that is also a component of this. There are many ways that we can stimulate these things. So we could put a pen in our teeth and force ourselves to smile. That’s one thing we could do. But in today’s activity I thought it would be fun to actually do a couple of the different Laughter Yoga processes. I would love for you to join in while I’m doing this so you can experience this for yourself. 

[07:38] Intro to Cold Engine Laugh

So all we’re going to be doing is stimulating some laughter. So let’s go ahead and try this. The first technique we’re going to be using from Laughter Yoga is if you could imagine that you have a car that you put a key in and try to turn the motor on, but maybe it’s cold and doesn’t quite want to turn on. So we’re going to do that, but we’re going to be making ha ha ha sounds with our voice as we turn on this pretend car. So please join in. 

[08:14]  Motion – COLD ENGINE LAUGH

So we’re going to go ha (pause) ha ha ([pause) ha ha ha ha ha (pause) ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Now I’m just laughing. That’s all there is to it. OK just take a little break. Notice how you feel. Enjoy the sensations in your face, in your throat, in your belly. And then we’ll try another one.

[08:56] Intro to Pull Cord Laugh

So this next one is kind of similar. What we’re doing here is we’re imagining using the pull cord on a lawnmower or some sort of engine that requires the pull cord. So as you pull it, the engine is getting some sort of “juice” getting in there you know moving things around and starting, potentially starting, the engine. So as we pull this pull cord, we’re going to go hahahaha many times and then we’ll see what happens. So please join in with this Laughter Yoga practice of the pullcord lawnmower.

[09:46] Motion – PULL CORD LAUGH

Here we go. We’re pulling the cord ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha (pause) ha ha ha ha ha ha (pause) ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha [begins laughing] Aahh, that was…It feels silly, I have to admit, doing this without anyone here in the room with me, so I’m really glad that you joined in. Thank you. What you may notice is it starts to be so ridiculous, that you end up spontaneously laughing. And I think that’s kind of what’s going on here. So you can pretend to laugh ‘til you get to the place where it’s just going to happen spontaneously.

[10:42] Recap

You may have heard the expression, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Well I believe that that is so because of all of the reasons that we talked about. We’ve got the massaging happening; the happy brain chemicals; the nervous system receiving this information through the facial nerve that everything is OK; the social connection. All of these reasons can make our body respond healthfully and our mind as well because we make these happy brain chemicals. So that’s what I have for you today. Thanks for joining in and send yourself some appreciation for doing this. I hope that you will practice these smiling and laughing pieces because they do make you feel good. And even if you don’t feel like doing it, just give it a try, and you might find that there’s some benefit. I wish you well with that. Thank you so much for joining me. This has been Move Into Resilience. I’m Pamela Stokes. Take it easy.

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