The medicine and science of laughter

A story about duck faces and dopamine

How does one come to an enlightened mind? According to Bashar, that begins with one simple step: lightening up on yourself first. Having a good laugh at your quirky side, your imperfections, your silliness and the lemons life has thrown into your courtyard. After all: “those who can laugh at themselves, will never cease to be amused.” Love that saying!

Last Saturday I went to a stand-up comedy show with a friend. Oh boy, how much have we laughed! To me, it doesn’t even matter how funny the comedian is; to be part of an environment where people come together to share a laugh – at both the comedian and themselves – is such an enjoyable thing in itself! I noticed my own smile coming more naturally and abundantly in this setting. The tiniest joke made me laugh out loud – despite the volume of rest of the audience. I noticed my mind getting really excited:
I should do this more often!
How wonderful would it be, if laughing so freely together would be the most normal and common thing in the world? If it would form the base of human connection?

These dreamy thoughts took me back to my backpack trip in the Philippines. An adventure I embarked on with the same friend 1,5 year ago. One day we stranded in a village with nothing else to do there but surf. We didn’t mind: we were more than happy to grab a board and enjoy a surf session! But when arriving at the beach, waves were nowhere to be found. For many, many days…. Ugh. Then what are we going to do here in the middle of nowhere?!  ‘Let’s start a duck face challenge!’, my friend said after a while. I laughed. ‘You’re joking, right?’ He wasn’t. Soon after I heard myself saying: ‘Sure, bring it on.’ After all, we had nothing else to do there, so we’d better turn our days into something positive and learn a new skill. Never understood the art of the duck face anyway, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to dive into that topic. We made a vow: for the rest of the trip, we would make one duck face selfie a day, to see if we would improve our skill. Turns out: we truly suck at it, but the laughter we shared in the process was priceless. 

Enjoying the comedy show and flashing back to our silly challenge in the Philippines, made me aware of how important joy is in our lives. Not just to our hearts and connection with others, but also to our bodies. Did you know that by lifting the corners of your mouth, dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are being released into your blood stream? This helps to lower your heart rate and blood pressure. In other words: they help to calm your body down and ease your emotional state. ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ is not just a popular quote. It holds truth. One that can be applied in life and your yoga practice.

‘Cause who ever decided yoga should be practiced in all seriousness? Why not smile at yourself when you fall out of a balancing pose and then gracefully dance yourself right back into it? Why not wiggle your imaginary tail when enjoying your puppy pose stretch? Yoga is not only about what you do, but also about how you do it. Your attitude determines everything. The more joy you allow into your practice, the more enjoyable your practice becomes and the better you’ll feel afterwards. Simple as that.

So check with yourself: How can you bring more laughter into your day-to-day living? Can you lighten up on yourself in your yoga practice, releasing any expectations and striving? With who can you let your playful, silly side out?

And if on any day your smile comes a little harder, remember that simply lifting up the corners of your mouth already gets the dopamine going :-).

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