What Laughter Is Teaching Me...

Photo: Natalie Stultz Photography

Photo: Natalie Stultz Photography

I’ve always been easy to laugh. My Venezuelan cousins teased me as kids because they’d make up silly jokes (that even they didn’t think were funny) and I thought they were hilarious.

It’s almost as if the child in me was tapped into the inherent joy of their silliness, rather than needing the joke to be funny.

Sadly, more often than not, we are socialized out of childhood to become adults who need a reason to laugh. We develop an intellectualized approach to laughter, where things need to pass our funny/not-funny pre-requisite in order to allow ourselves to laugh.

Then one time, about eight years ago, on a not-particularly-good day, sitting at my desk in my old office at the Woolen Mill, this odd thought crossed my mind:

“What if I can make myself laugh for no reason?”

So I started pretend-laughing… “ha ha ha…” and pretty soon I realized that I was laughing for real. I could tell that my body did not know whether I was pretending to laugh or laughing “for real”. I was just laughing. And as I did, I then found a reason to laugh… I was laughing at my joy, my silliness and delighting in the lightness of just laughing.

Then I heard about a thing called laughter yoga, which is exactly that: Unconditional laughter. In other words, laughing as an exercise in and of itself, rather than requiring a joke or a reason to laugh.

Laughter yoga exercises are nothing more than a simple instrument to start laughing. They’re not funny. Here’s one example: breathe in, sigh out going “ha…. ha…. ha…”. Do it several times adding more “ha’s…” Or my favorite, pretend you are starting a car: put a pretend-key in your pretend-car’s ignition and turn it… the engine (old school car) putters a bit as you go “ha..ha..ha..ha..ha…”, do it a few more times, until you get “the car started” with a good pretend-laugh. :) I’m giggling as I write this…

It’s childlike. It’s joyous. It’s about unconditionally choosing to bring a little lightness and joy into your heart.

Then last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Mathews, MA. She’s a certified Laughter Yoga teacher who also has an incredibly compelling story of how laughter as a choice and a practice (much like meditation or exercise) has transformed her life.

Jen and her partner Kate both were certified in Laughter Yoga and in addition to being life partners, they worked together teaching workshops around the country. Laughter became who they were. They were known in their community of Mt Shasta as “the laughing girls.”

Then Kate got diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Hearing Jen speak of how both she and Kate used their laughter practice to help them navigate through those final 12 weeks of Kate’s life is heart-opening and inspiring. Through her experience, and telling her story, and doing this work, Jen is shinning a light on a new way of experiencing the challenges life brings us… even losing the love of our lives.

After Kate died, Jen also knew she had to walk her talk and really hold herself accountable to using her tools. Through the process of grieving Kate she discovered the depth to which she had the ability to choose either to sink into her grief or connect to the joy in her life.

I can’t do Jen’s story justice here, but I’d love to invite you to listen to my interview with her, and if you have the opportunity, to check out her workshops around the country.

I had the privilege of attending Jen’s workshop this past Wednesday and I can tell you that I am changed. I am committing to using unconditional laughter on a daily basis just as I am committed to my meditation.

It is THAT powerful. In fact, I’m finding that a laughter practice in some ways is more noticeably powerful than sitting in meditation, in the sense that you can immediately feel the shift in your nervous system, the tension in your body and in your mood.

Starting my morning with intentional, unconditional laughter these past couple of days has set up the rest of my day to be colored by a new kind of lightness and joy.

I think laughter might be the true fairy dust of life… and if you can’t laugh just yet, then just try a smile for now… :)