Laughter Is No Laughing Matter

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Namibia may have missed out on the World Laughter Day celebrated last month, but it is never too late to learn to laugh – even if there is no apparent reason for it, New Era reports.

By Catherine Sasman

WINDHOEK

If you are older than 25, you probably do not remember when last you had a good ‘laugh till you cry’ moment. If so, this is regrettable, but not surprising, says certified laugh therapist, Cerina van Rensburg.

“Adults only laugh 15 times per day – maybe – while children laugh more than 400 times a day for apparently nothing at all. We are all familiar with groups of teenagers giggling for any old reason. Adults may get irritated by such behaviour, but that would only be because adults have lost the ability to laugh out loud,” says Van Rensburg.

And yet, she says, the ability to laugh – and the emphasis here is ‘laugh for no particular reason’ – is a saving grace, and adults need to re-learn that childlike ability for greater physical and mental health.

“People are born to laugh, but lose this ability along the way because they get messages such as ‘stop laughing, don’t be silly’. But we need to understand that we have to laugh for no reason,” she stresses.

Van Rensburg – wife of former CEO of Namfisa, Frans van Rensburg – is a trained teacher, an accredited ‘Journey’ practitioner, and now a certified laughter trainer.

Predisposed to spontaneous laughter – even as an adult – Van Rensburg’s interest in laughter therapy was piqued when she read an article in a South African magazine, and later responded to an advertisement about laughter training, and went off to undergo a course in yoga laughter.

“My husband once took our son up the stony hills of Bloedkop-pies. They could not come down because it was so slippery. Instead of panicking, I could not stop myself laughing.”

And just for the heck of it, she dances in front of her two young daughters just for a tickle, or does the most seemingly “stupid” things in front of her class to give them a bit of a chuckle. Not even the youngsters do not always appreciate such behaviour, she admits.

But since doing the laughter course, she has made it her mission – along with her other missions in life – to get adults back to their original selves.
“I have come to the awareness that people need to connect with themselves again.

All negative things steering us away from who we really are cannot hurt us; the essence of the human being cannot be harmed by such negative experiences, but instead we build surface layers to deal with the hurt, and it is that surface layer that we, in the end, identify with. By laughing a lot, for whatever reason, one learns to let go of the surface layers.”

Inherent benefits of laughter, says Van Rensburg, are that the body breathes deeper, hence allowing in more oxygen into the body, strains the diaphragm, and, very importantly, releases the happy hormones, endorphins, which makes the human body feel light and unencumbered.

Other benefits of laughter are that it slows down the brain rhythms to the alpha level; improves self-esteem; strengthens the immune system; increases the count of natural killer cells (such as those attacking cancers and tumours); it raises antibody levels in the body; and it reconnects people under a non-threatening, non-political, non-competitive banner.

In short, says Van Rensburg, a good laugh is a gateway to inner and outer peace.

Laughter is thus not a laughing matter, but something everyone should strive for.

The School of Yoga Laughter – as it has since been dubbed – is a unique concept formed in March 1995 by the Indian physician from Mumbai, Madan Kataria.

The concept of what has now become a worldwide movement is simple: anyone can laugh for no reason, without relying on humour, jokes or comedies. It combines yoga breathing techniques and exercises to allow more oxygen into the body.

The ‘laughing without a purpose’, says Van Rensburg, is to emphasise that even if people cannot spontaneously break out into a giggle, it is still worthwhile to force out a laughter, because the brain cannot distinguish between forced laughter and a good, hearty genuine laugh – the body will still respond in the same fashion. On top of that, a forced laughter is good practice for the real thing.

“This is very important for the inner core of laughter, which is so important to release negative thoughts, improve your physical health, and brings you in touch with your spiritual side,” she says.

A typical session would be like this: people standing in a circle and clap their (open) hands rhythmically as a warming up exercise. They pair off in twos and chant and move their bodies, while saying: “ho-ho-ha-ha-ha”. They then chant: “Very good, very good, yeah!” repeatedly. And before you know it, everyone is laughing – be it forced or genuine.

Then there are different kinds of laughter introduced: a greeting laughter or a cellphone laughter, for example.

In another session, the yoga laughing, people lie on yoga mattresses and laugh out loud for a whole 20 minutes – non-stop.

“The moment you laugh, you give others permission to laugh with you. You lose your inhibitions, and make it safe for others to be silly,” she says.
One such session promises to leave the person stressless within an hour and bursting with energy.

But what do people normally laugh about?

Laugh therapy researcher, Professor Robert Provine, says less than 20 percent of laughter is a response to anything funny. He found that people are 30 times more prone to laugh if they are in groups rather than alone.

And women were found to laugh more frequently and easily than men – perhaps the reason why larger numbers of women flock to Van Rensburg’s laughter sessions. And, says Provine, the extrovert – or “talker” as he puts it – laughs about 50 percent more than the introvert.

Furthermore, he says, human laughter differs from, say, that of chimpanzees. Human laughter is chopping, and comes in single expirations (ha-ha-ha). Chimps, apparently, have a more “breathy” laughter.

The social implications of laughter are that people will laugh more readily in social contexts, and therefore, in the absence of television or other media, people are 30 times more likely to laugh if they are in a group.

His study also found that people are more likely to laugh while in conversation with others, than reacting to any structured attempts to provoke laughter – like a comedy.

More importantly perhaps, says Norman Cousins, is that laughter gives a sense of all-round wellbeing. Incorporating humour into a regimen for healing, however, was found in short supply.

But our bodies and souls need a good laugh, says Van Rensburg. But that self-healing laughing child in all of us is silenced by the adult world.
It was found that if a child is reared in an atmosphere of devastation, or mental, physical or sexual abuse, cruelty, and meanness, the child is likely not to have an appreciation for healthy humour or a positive view of light-hearted living.

But if the child is raised in a happy, well-adjusted home where laughter happens easily, such a child will allow other children to participate in humorous events. This child will be more familiar with harmless practical jokes, joke telling, story telling and mirth.

Importantly also, says Van Rensburg, laughter chases the blues away. She sees patients referred to her who suffer from depression and other milder cases. With a good dose of laughter, people are reported to feel more in control of their otherwise wayward emotions, and feel more confident to tackle their problems.

“We are also supposed to laugh in stressful situations,” says Van Rensburg. But we need to cultivate that awareness “not to take life too seriously but to live a lighter life”.

“Laughter peels the surface layers off and gets to the core of our essence.”

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