Why laughter is as important as breathing.
“To laugh you have to be able to exhale & take another breath in quick succession. We know from various (breathing) therapies, that to take a breath causes one to free one’s emotions, that when we wish NOT to feel, we hold our breath instead”.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes from ‘Women who run with the Wolves’ – a fabulous book, by the way, & one that I think will inform all women, stimulate deep understanding & personal growth.
I work with many women who have been holding their breath for a long time, which can create exhaustion & respiratory illnesses or a sense of tightness or pressure around the chest/lungs/heart area as well as constriction in the throat & many other physical symptoms. Letting go can be scary on your own. Sometimes we have been doing it for so long that we aren’t even aware of it, nor do we remember a time when we felt any differently than right now. We accept many, many emotions, feelings & physical discomforts as just the way things are, part of us, something we cannot change. The results are often chronic illnesses, lots of acute illnesses, a lack of energy or an absence of Joy or any sense of deep happiness or ease.
Why do we do this? We do it usually as a deep & instinctive means of protection, a means of putting our breath on hold so that we will not feel deeply painful or messy emotions. Originally this was meant as a short term measure, since the cost of a long term literal holding of breath, an inactive, ‘treading of water’, is that the whole metabolism has to compensate. Our blood supply is compromised, lung capacity is compromised, energy is taken away from vital organs & used not for essential maintenance or healing, but instead used to be in this constant state. All soft tissue – muscles, tendons, ligaments are wound tighter & tighter as the grip becomes fixed & nothing is fluid anymore – there is stiffness & inflexibility. The body then tries it’s best to fix this by localised inflammation – redness, soreness, swelling. Again this is meant for emergencies, there’s not enough energy or healing vitality to do it efficiently, so inflammation too becomes a low level chronic problem creating more problems in a wider & wider area.This is often the arena that women feel the most discomfort & no matter how many massages are had, it never really goes away. Sound familiar? Think about it – try taking a deepish breath in & hold it for as long as you can, then try to breathe without releasing that hold. You’ll notice immediately that it isn’t possible to breathe deeply, the breath becomes shallow & focused in the chest only. We are meant to breathe in deeply right into the abdomen just as babies & toddlers do – watch them as they sleep & see that belly rising & falling….
The reason almost any breathing focused health modality is so beneficial is because this is the root to good health, how we move breath around our bodies governs how everything else works, it fuels & motivates all of it. This is our energy, vital force, our flow, our Prana, our Qi. Yoga, Qi-gong, Meditation and many other practices teach us to take in & release air as we should & as we need to – a regular deep tissue massage of gentle squeezing & releasing. Once we start these practices its hard to keep holding on to those habitual emotional freeze positions – the body (& the mind) can flow again.
There is also a superb instinctive fast track to this – laughter! Not mild tittering or controlled giggling but big, raucous, belly aching laughter preferably amongst like-minded friends. We women are especially skilled at this when we get together,so do it as often as you can, it’s not frivolous or selfish, it’s essential maintenance!! What’s more there have been plenty of Studies done to support the efficacy of laughter. Here are just some of the results:-
Laughter relaxes the whole body – relieves physical tension & stress, leaving muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.
Laughter boosts the immune system – reducing stress hormones, boosting immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, all essential components to fighting disease.
Laughter triggers the release of endorphins – the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins induce an overall sense of well-being & can even lower pain.
Laughter protects the heart – improves the circulatory system so the function & flow of blood vessels is enhanced, which can help protect against heart attacks & other cardiovascular problems.
Laughter resolves anger, resentment & irritability – Nothing resolves anger faster than a shared laugh. Acknowledging the funny side can help put problems into perspective & open things up to being able to resolve conflict without holding onto any lasting negative emotions.
Laughter & emotional health – it sounds obvious & it is! Laughter makes us feel good & shared laughter creates a sense of sharing, communication, connection & community, we all need to feel part of a group. A shared sense of humour is often the first thing that connects or attracts us to someone & is what can sustain & nurture all our relationships. Its very contagious & often once you start it can be difficult to stop, but we feel so much lighter & freer afterwards!Even in the most difficult & challenging of situations – during which we are perhaps starting to ‘hold on’ rather than let go – a good laugh will relieve tension & allow us to release & move on. Afterwards we often feel more focused & more productive. It’s also impossible to feel anxious, angry, sad or aggressive while you are laughing, so if nothing else it provides respite.
Laughter can strengthen relationships – You can see from all the above benefits how sharing a really good laugh can enable both parties to relax, let go of resentment or anger or hurt & re-connect. Once you are re-connecting it can allow more empathy, spontaneity & forgiveness, which is actually an ability to keep progressing & moving rather than getting stuck in a moment. It can also open the door to being able to express difficult emotions without blame or shame or stress.
Laughter may even help you to live longer. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor seemed to outlive those who didn’t laugh as much. This was particularly notable for those people doing cancer.
What you can do to encourage more Laughter: –
Smile – practice smiling as much as you can – it’s the beginning of laughter, it’s contagious & the position the facial muscles are in is actually one of the most relaxed! Also as my Qi-gong teacher says ‘Remember your inner smile’! Smile from your heart & to every cell in your body, smiles are not only for others, they begin with you.
Attitude of Gratitude – If we practice daily, consciously turning our focus onto the things we are grateful for rather than the things we feel are a problem, we are more open to laughter – it’s like being in the waiting room!!
Choose to spend time with people who like to laugh – We know it’s contagious so go out & catch some! Children are great for this – they create their own laughter & fun and even googling a baby or toddler laughing & saving it on your phone or laptop to watch at the start of each day can lift your spirits. When we live in large groups based around the central family, women naturally gather together to share work, stories, fears, and laughter. In many societies this is still the case, we have our own female language and humour and there is nothing like time spent belly laughing with like-minded women. Make it part of your self-care approach.
Watch more comedy or listen to it – think about what or who makes you laugh & build it in to your self-care programme – podcasts are brilliant for this.
Fake it till you make it! – There are some exercise programmes including Yoga that will incorporate a conscious laughter element – what tends to happen is what is kind of ‘forced’ to begin with quickly develops in to the real thing. It’s a bit like exercising a muscle you haven’t used for a while. The more you use it the more fluid & effective it becomes & the quicker you can laugh! Try laughing at a friends joke even if you don’t find it funny or join a Yoga Laughter group or listen to that recording of a child laughing every day & laugh with it.
As Maurice Chevalier once said.“You don’t stop laughing because you get older, you get older because you stop laughing!”
If you would like to share any jokes with me or other readers, please post them in the comments box – keep them clean, respectful & appropriate. Thanks, now go have your first laugh of the day!