Have you had a good laugh lately? I mean a really good – deep 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.
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. Many religions emphasize that joy is a spiritual quality. St. Paul, who was well acquainted with the difficulties and tragedies of life, emphasized the need to cherish it. In a letter, he wrote – “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.”
These fruits, coming from one spiritual source, are practical healing qualities for every situation with which we are faced. When we see joy, for example, as innate to our being, then we can also trust that human conditions do not have the power to remove our natural joy. And, the confidence that our joy cannot be taken away enables us to overcome trials and difficulties. Joy is a natural healer.
Oberg agrees, and likens discovering our inner joy to realizing 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.”
“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 drugs.
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 in which Oberg works 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. It only locks us into unhappiness, pain, fear or turmoil. Laughter breaks that hold, connects us with our innate joy and allows us to experience life and health in new and different ways.
This article was published in the Edmonton Journal HERE