Published 12/16/2013. Last updated 7/24/2015.
Creating super immunity for ourselves also involves learning to calm our naturally over active minds – our ‘monkey brains’, so called for their tendency to leap around from one thought to another like playful monkeys.
Laughter, especially a good belly laugh, is one of the best ways we have to relieve stress, calm the brain and turn a bad mood into a good one. We all know we feel better after we’ve had a good laugh – even smiled. So how to get that benefit when life feels really hard?
I remember reading about something called Laughter Yoga and thinking I’d go to a Meet Up Laughter Yoga group to try it. For one reason or another I never got myself there. Then one day in the shower I decided just to try laughing – at nothing at all. And I felt good all the rest of the day.
In the same way that tears shed while cutting up onions and tears of sadness or joy all help detoxify the body, laughter when nothing’s particularly funny has the same benefits as laughter at something that strikes us as hilarious.
Former Magazine editor Norman Cousins was an early adherent of ‘the science of happiness’. He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a life-threatening autoimmune disease, in 1964 and given little chance for recovery. To help himself, he created his own laughter therapy program, akin to today’s Laughter Yoga, to mobilize his body’s natural healing resources.
While he was ill, Cousins found that watching Marx Brothers comedies helped him feel better and let him have some pain-free sleep. The reason for this is that laughter stimulates the pituitary gland to release a pain-suppressing opiate hormone. (Breyer, 2011)
He went on to establish the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology in Los Angeles and wrote a book called Anatomy of an Illness. He also served as Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the UCLA, where he did research on the biochemistry of human emotions, which he believed were the key to human beings’ ability to prevent and fight illness. (Mercola, 12/12/2013)
Here’s a short video that always makes me laugh – some emus and an ostrich with a Weazel Ball. Best watched in full screen mode.
MEDITATION & BREATHING
Meditation and pranayama (breathwork), practiced for thousands of years, have been shown to calm our bodies and brain, promote antiviral activity, reduce inflammation, aid digestion, boost our immune systems and return us to our physical and emotional centers where we feel connected and whole. (Mayo Clinic, 2013)
As more people in the West have turned to medication and breathwork to improve their lives, modern science has gotten interested in using brain scanning techniques to study its emotional, physical, and spiritual benefits. The images below show activity in the brain before and after the subject had meditated. You can easily see how much the brain has calmed down in the post-meditation image.
The technique of mindfulness meditation is fairly simple: You focus on your breath and body sensations while non-judgmentally noting distracting thoughts and emotions. There’s no need to sit cross legged on the floor while meditating. There’s even a technique called walking meditation.
In a course I took with Sally Kempton, a well known meditation teacher and writer, she offered a nice image for the hardest part in developing a meditation practice: non-judgmental noting of distracting thoughts and emotions: “When you’re in front of a large aquarium looking at the beautiful fish, you don’t jump in the tank and swim after them. You say instead look at that fish.”
So when you’re trying to meditate and notice a thought in your head, you can note it – maybe say to yourself thought. You’ll probably have to do that a lot since our brains are very good at producing thoughts.
When I teach my anxious, depressed and dissociated psychotherapy patients some simple meditation or breath work (pranayama) techniques, they universally report that they found them quite helpful – but then stopped doing them.
I love this cartoon about our difficulty making positive changes in our lives.
As a beginning meditator, it can be useful to get started by doing some sort of meditation or breathing technique for maybe a minute several times a day rather than promising yourself you’ll meditate an hour each evening after work.
We know that the brain learns by connecting synapses to create pathways that get strengthened each time we repeat a process. This is how habits develop. As I see it, our emotional states are largely habits we’ve learned to the point where they run automatically when triggered. So if the the idea is to retrain your brain to calm down rather than expend more energy, new pathways must be created to become new habits. To that end, starting a new process several times a day is more educational than doing it for a longer time only once a day.
Here are some suggestions for how to get started. (Inner IDEA, 2011)
Breyer, M. (2011). 8 Health Benefits of Laughter. See http://www.care2.com/greenliving/8-health-benefits-of-laughter.html#ixzz2o2N4AQnh
Inner IDEA. (2011). Meditation 101: Techniques, Benefits & Beginner’s How-to. See http://life.gaiam.com/article/meditation-101-techniques-benefits-beginner-s-how
Mayo Clinic Staff (2013). A simple, fast way to reduce stress. See http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/meditation/HQ01070
Mercola, R. (12/12/2013). Happiness and Laughter Are Natural Immune Boosters. See http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/12/12/happiness-laughter-immune-boosters.aspx?e_cid=20131205Z1A_DNL_artTest_B5&utm_source=dnl&utm_medium=email&utm_content=artTest_B5&utm_campaign=20131205Z1A&et_cid=DM34485&et_rid=358522925
A version of this page content will appear in my forthcoming 2014 Oriental Medicine Journal article THE MICROBIOTA-GUT-BRAIN AXIS: The constant two-way communication between our guts and our brains.
© Copyright 2013-2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.