Meditation is in vogue. Ellen does it. Oprah does it. Jeffrey Weiner, Bill Ford and Arianna Huffington do it. Even you’re Aunt Cheryl’s doing it and she’s definitely not “spiritual” – she’s never even been to Bali.
Having a meditation practice seems a little to me like having a gym membership – it’s fashionable and it’s healthy, but there are only a few motivated exceptional people who really stick to it. The rest of us are back to eating doughnuts on the couch two weeks into January.
If you are struggling with a meditation practice, I’m here to tell you – it’s not your fault. (Eating doughnuts on the couch might be though, sorry.) Meditation is a commitment that even the most experienced of meditators struggle with. Why? Because mindfulness is actually hell-a-hard to stick to. The first thing people tend to think when they begin meditating is “am I doing it right” and the second; “why can’t I shut my mind off.”
Our minds are naturally busy – try not to think for one-minute and you will appreciate just how busy your mind is. Attempting to slow down one’s mind, or focus on one’s breath may actually cause more stress and strain – which is the opposite goal of meditation. Now, if meditation works for you, and you’re both “doing it right” and “shutting your mind off”, keep being your badass, zenned-out self. For the rest of us, enter super-zen – the new and improved mindfulness practice – laughter!
Yes, you heard me right, sniggers, cackles, giggles, guffaws and belly laughs really are the new meditation.
As I’ve discovered during in-depth research for my book Laugh, laughter is one of our most powerful, yet least explored and least researched behaviours. My initial laugh-epiphany occurred during a flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong in-which a severe bout of an anxiety had kicked in (and had been present for three days prior). I attempted to meditate for much of the flight and use mindfulness techniques to calm myself, but I wound up feeling even worse. When I gave up on meditating and decided to watch comedy films to distract myself, I made the most wonderful discovery – belly-laughter relieved my anxiety! Laughter even helped me to fall asleep and enabled me to completely shift me from a negative state to a positive one.
What I had attempted to and failed to do with years of meditation, I achieved in just 30 minutes of laughter.
We laugh before we can talk, walk or even eat solid food. Laughter is not a learned behaviour, it’s inherited in us and probably inherited from our ancestors the great apes – who by the way, aren’t opposed to a laugh themselves. Laughter, many researchers believe, developed before speech as a way to indicate a lack of danger and allow groups to bond socially. Laughter, therefore, is a way to tell others (and ourselves) that things are A-OK.
Studies show laughter as a useful tool in treating anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. Laughter, due to it’s endorphin-releasing properties, is also a good pain reliever and a useful immunity booster. The practice has been proven to assist in heart health, diabetes prevention, a reduction in arthritis symptoms and even melatonin production – which, as we know, is essential for sleep. What’s most exciting – laughter has even been shown to produce the same gamma wave brain activity produced by experienced meditators, himalayan monks.
Besides the health benefits, laughter feels good. You might end a meditation session feeling worse than when you started, the same won’t be true after watching your favourite comedy, or catching up with a friend who always has you in hysterics.
Instead of forcing ourselves into the lotus position for the first few weeks of January, perhaps 2019 can be the year of joy, fun and laughter, a year in which we actively watch things that make us feel good, see people who give us joy and find the funny in every situation we can – that’s a spiritual practice we’re not likely to ever want to give up.