It’s still too early to plant flowers in the terra cotta pots by our front door, but we can tell that spring is just around the corner. Regardless of the weather, our year-round resident — Laughing Buddha — greets us with his buoyant body language and effervescent smile that never fails to trigger a chuckle.
Anatomically speaking, we all know that the most important bone in our body is the Funny Bone. For full health benefits, it’s imperative to exercise it on a regular basis.
Scientific studies show that humor stimulates the brain’s reward center in the same ways as sex and chocolate. In turn, this reward center secretes two hormones into the brain: dopamine and serotonin. Also known as “happiness molecules,” these anti-stress chemicals are associated with the feeling of happiness.
As we grow older, the production of these chemicals in the body decreases, so laughing becomes all the more important with increasing age.
When was the last time your funny bone got a workout?
Pay attention to the small stuff - Lichen on a tree, John Muir Woods, WI
Dust motes, ladybugs, lichen…
In her book Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, Dr. Ellen Langer had this to say about mindfulness as it pertains to health:
“The simple act of noticing new things—is crucial to our health in several ways. First, when we’re mindless, we ignore all the ways we could exercise control over our health. We turn that control over to the medical world alone and accept limits, which closes us off to the power of possibility.”
In my experience, mindfulness is an agent of transformation and healing.
Mindfulness is simple, but it’s not easy. Mindfulness is the open-hearted energy of being aware—now, right now—in the present moment. It’s the daily cultivation—practice—of touching life deeply. To be mindful is to be present with, and sensitive to, the people we’re with and the things we’re doing, whether it’s raking leaves, washing laundry, brushing our teeth, or peeling potatoes.
At a presentation given by Jon Kabat-Zinn he said:
“Mindfulness points to being aware of, and paying attention to, the moment in which we find ourselves. Our past is gone and our future isn’t here yet. What exists between them is the present moment; the link that holds what was and what will be.”
That brief teaching in mindfulness changed my life.
Mindfulness is our capacity to be fully present in our own life, to be fully aware of what we’re doing as we’re doing it. As we develop our awareness, an inner stillness naturally grows. In this case, stillness doesn’t necessarily mean without motion. Rather, it means to be free from inner tumult; to be tranquil. When we function from a place of tranquility we’re better able to embrace the world and better equipped to respond wisely and lovingly.
It’s my perspective that mindfulness is more than paying attention, it’s paying intention.
Paying attention engages the mind.
Paying intention additionally engages the will.
Intention is beautifully illustrated in a story that my friend “B” shared with me. She said:
“I used to be part of a dinner book club where each month the group members would contribute a dish for dinner and after what was always a wonderful meal, we discussed an agreed upon book.
“One month, Debbie’s food offering was a loaf of Challah bread. As we were eating it and praising her efforts, she told us that as she kneaded the bread, she chanted our names; as she braided the bread, she said intentions for the well-being of each person who would later be partaking of the bread. I remember how honored I was when she told us this.”
When you’re mindful, do you pay attention or intention?
Yes, I’ve actually done presentations in these shoes
Did you hear the one about?…
The focus on the benefits of laughter began in earnest with Norman Cousins’ memoir, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. Norman who’d been diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a painful spine condition, discovered that a regimen of comedy films like Marx Brothers and episodes of Candid Camera made him feel better. He said that 10 minutes of laughter allowed him 2 hours of pain-free sleep.
Scientists attribute the benefits of laughter primarily to its ability to combat the physical and emotional characteristics of chronic stress, which have been shown to suppress the body’s immunity.
The Health Benefits of Laughter Laughter reduces stress by increasing the body’s secretion of growth hormone, which, in turn, has a positive effect on immunity. Increased stress is associated with decreased immune system response.
Laughter decreases the release of adrenaline and cortisol, two of the worst culprits in weakening the immune system. Studies suggest that similar to exercise, laughter releases endorphins that the body uses to fight pain and depression.
Len, Peter and Laurie Laughing
Research done at the University of Maryland Medical Center shows that “Laughter is similar to exercise in that it decreases blood pressure, increases muscle flexion, improves the overall performance of the heart’s muscular functions, and possibly wards off heart disease.”
Roberta Gold, recreation and humor therapist based in California said, “The physiological processes the body undergoes during laughter are relaxing. Your circulatory system works better, you oxygenate your blood better, and you feel better afterward, physiologically and emotionally. The benefits of comedy aren’t just physical. While laughter improves the body’s physiological processes, a sense of humor is paramount to mental health. Laughter stimulates positive emotions and encourages a more positive outlook.”
Research at the University of North Carolina determined that a positive mental state—such as one brought on by humor—increases open-mindedness, creativity, and the capacity to adapt to change.
Experts also speculate that a sense of humor goes hand-in-hand with higher levels of “emotional intelligence” which determines a person’s ability to handle their feelings and understand the emotional states of others.
Karen and Peter Cracking Up!
Humor has also been linked to improved test scores. In a study at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, researchers divided students in a graduate biostatistics class into 2 groups. They administered identical exams to each group, except that one set of tests had humorous instructions. Students who received the amusing exam scored significantly higher than those with the ordinary directions.
Laughter decreases blood pressure, normalizes heart rate, and increases appetite. To top it off, it’s a great workout that helps the lungs breathe better and keeps muscles in the diaphragm, abdomen, respiratory tract, face, legs, and back healthy.
According to a study released by the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2000 meeting, laughter and an active sense of humor may also help to prevent heart and artery disease.
The University of Maryland Medical Center studied the effects on blood vessels when people were shown either comedies or dramas. After viewing, the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedies behaved normally, expanding and contracting easily. However, the blood vessels in people who watched the dramas tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.
One study of people with diabetes looked at the effects of laughter on blood sugar levels. After eating, the group attended an intentionally tedious lecture. The next day, the group ate the same meal and then watched a comedy. After the comedy, the group had lower blood sugar levels than they did after the lecture.
Laurie & Len know how to have a fun time!
How does it work?
Scientists speculate that humor stimulates the brain’s reward center in the same ways as SEX and CHOCOLATE. In turn, this reward center secretes 2 hormones into the brain: dopamine and serotonin. Also known as happiness molecules, these are anti-stress chemicals associated with the feeling of happiness. As we grow older, the production of these chemicals in the body decreases, so laughing becomes all the more important with increasing age.
As a Holistic Health Practitioner, I can share this fact with certainty: of the 206 bones in the human body, the most important one is the funny bone. Laughter is indeed the best medicine!
When was the last time you enjoyed side-splitting laughter?