ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
ENLIGHTEN UP! a blog
Self-awareness stories: lighting our way to clarity, contentment and resilience in a complicated world.
“So many tangles in life are ultimately hopeless that we have no appropriate sword other than laughter.” - Gordon Allport, psychologist and educator
The photo may remind you of Lucy’s psychiatry booth from the Peanuts comic strip by Charles Shultz. Lucy's booth is a long-running gag. It reminds us that as long as we are vertical, ventilating and still on the right side of the ground, we are probably dealing with several of life’s tangles. Some of us will seek counseling or psychiatric help, I certainly did when I needed it. Many of us can get through it all with laughter. Along with self-awareness skills, laughter is my go-to therapeutic self-help technique at present. And fortunately, laughter is free!
The Mayo clinic lists several benefits. Laughter can:
A sense of humor helps. Do you have one? I hope so! A sense of humor is defined as the ability to perceive, appreciate or express what is funny, amusing or ludicrous. Having a sense of humor means being able to laugh at, or at least see the humor in life's absurdities. And with global warming and political storming, we have all the absurdities we can handle at the moment. Lindsay Holmes, the Deputy Healthy Living Editor at The Huffington Post, lists six signs that you have a sense of humor:
1. You make laughing a priority
2. You practice self-acceptance
3. You’re creative
4. You’re conscientious
5. You have good physical well-being
6. Aging is just a fact of life to you
I have two responses to Lindsay’s list. First, number five: You have good physical well-being. Fortunately, having a sense of humor does not necessarily depend on physical well-being. It’s great if you have it, but most of us are dealing with some physical discomfort or dis-ease. If you are experiencing a difficulty, illness or imbalance that’s interfering with your physical or mental well-being, a sense of humor and the ability to laugh can help.
According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, laughter, or humor therapy, helps promote overall health and wellness. Laughter therapy modalities use the physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stress, distress or discomfort. Surgeons used humor to distract patients from pain as early as the 13th century. In the 20th century, scientists studied the effect of humor on physical wellness.
Many credit this modern use of laughter to Norman Cousins. Remember him? He was a political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate who suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, a painful connective tissue disease. In addition to medical treatments he added laughing, long, loud and often, and found that ten minutes of hearty laughter would reduce his pain and help him sleep.
Next is number six: Aging is just a fact of life to you. This relates directly to number two: You practice self-acceptance. This is important. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Aging is not for sissies?” Here’s another one I from a woman in my book group, “Aging is a bitch!” And I saw this next one on a mug in a gift shop, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” Aging, however we view it, is inevitable, but if we accept that inevitability, we can find many ways to laugh at the process.
The best part of incorporating liberal doses of humor in your life is that laughing doesn’t cost a dime and it’s calorie free! As matter of fact, research published in the International Journal of Obesity found that 15 minutes of laughter a day will burn between ten and 40 calories, depending on a person's weight and the intensity of the laughter. That is enough to lose between one to four pounds a year! (https://www.sharecare.com/health/calories/how-many-calories-burn-laugh).
If laughter doesn’t come easily to you, try a laughing club. Laughing clubs meet regularly to take part in communal laughing for therapeutic effect. The idea got started in India in the mid-1990s. It promotes the ideal of a non-political, non-religious, non-racial, non-threatening, and non-competitive approach to laughter. Its core premise is that your body knows how to laugh, regardless of what your mind has to say. Because it follows a body-mind approach to laughter, participants do not need to have a sense of humor, know jokes, or even be happy. The invitation is to “laugh for no reason.” To find one near you, Google: laughter club near me.
Personally, I make it a point to laugh every day. It always makes me feel better no matter what absurdity or problem might be present or looming – and there is always something! I DVR The Daily Show (political satire), Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (political satire), and Saturday Night Live (cultural & political satire) - see a pattern here? I get my laughs by watching one or more of the shows after my morning meditation practice. By the time I have finished my breakfast, I’ve had my share of belly laughs, increased my endorphin flow and have set a positive outlook for the day. Well, most of the time – it’s all a process and some days are better than others but at least I put in the effort.
I’ve even created and performed stand-up comedy in a couple of local venues, it’s terrifying and gratifying at the same time, and when the audience laughs, it feels as good as sex and better than chocolate! I also try to infuse my writing with a bit of humor when I can. You can find a sample of my humorous take on perfectionism here: (www.bethgibbs.com/nobodylovesperfect.html)
A classic Vulcan salutation from Star Trek’s Mr. Spock is, “Live long and prosper.” To end this article, I say, “Live long and laugh!”
“The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.” - Margot Fonteyn
As human beings, we do take our work seriously, whether we work a salaried job, dedicate our time to volunteer activities, or take on the difficult task of raising human beings and caring for family. To do this well, we need to take the second part of Fonteyn’s quote to heart. Our ability to observe our experiences with humor and without judgment helps us avoid taking ourselves too seriously.
Don’t get me wrong – there is much to be sad, troubled and disheartened about in today’s world BUT my way of dealing with it all is to sneak in lightness and laughter. If you practice yoga, you’ll recognize the humor in The Full Catastrophe Sun Salutation. If you’re not into yoga, just read it as my attempt to add some humor into our current world situation and address the complexity of living life in Earth school until we ‘graduate.’
The idea for The Full Catastrophe Sun Salutation came from a You Tube video titled, “Angry Yoga.” In it a yoga teacher leads her class in a Sun Salutation complete with commentary on climate change, cultural dissonance and the futility of hope. It is dark and devastatingly funny (to me). I wanted to expand on the shtick but end it on a positive note. I’m an optimist and hope springs eternal after all. The title comes from Jon Kabat Zinn’s book, “Full Catastrophe Living,” that deals with stress, mindfulness, meditation and healing.
The Full Catastrophe Sun Salutation
1. Mountain Pose. Stand tall. Feel your feet planted into the Earth, our poor messed up planet Earth, full of war, famine, poverty, hazardous waste, divisive politics, violence, ignorance, and pain. Have I left anything out? Take a big inhalation and release the breath with a suitable sound: Ahhhhhhhrgh!!!
2. Upward Salute. Inhale your arms overhead. Reach up towards the warmth of the sun, even though you know it’s gonna’ die, first growing 40% brighter and hotter as the oceans boil, the ice caps melt, and the atmosphere goes poof and drifts out to space while we slowly suffocate. Too bad the sun isn’t massive enough to go supernova and burn us all to crispy critters. That would be a whole lot quicker. Oh, well.
3. Forward Fold. Hinge from the hips, hands flowing down to your feet like the acid rain, snow, fog, hail and dust that’s polluting lakes, streams, and wetlands, damaging the soil and everything that grows from it—fruits, vegetables, plants and trees. Feeling a bit of existential angst? Entering a “dark night of the soul?” Hang in there; we’re not done yet!
4. Lunge Pose. Step your right leg back. Come into your lunge. Gaze straight toward the horizon covered in pollution, haze, and industrial smoke. The title of that old song by Arthur Hamilton “Cry Me a River” seems appropriate right now, so sob uncontrollably until your tears end the droughts in the U. S., Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia, Australia, Guatemala, China and Kenya to mention just a few countries.
5. Downward Facing Dog Pose. Step your left foot back. Lift up high to the sky and don’t give a flying fig what anyone thinks about the size of your behind—especially you!
6. Plank Pose. Inhale into Plank Pose. Focus on your core. Want those six-pack abs? Hang in there until your muscles seize and you collapse like a stone. Then sink gracefully and gratefully into Child’s pose. Surrender to thoughts of that piece of chocolate cheesecake waiting for you at home. Sugar, calories, and fat — emotional eating at its best. Yummy.
7. Low Cobra Pose. Inhale forward into Low Cobra and while you’re there, gently bang your head on your mat a few times. This is a therapeutic technique to help you push away thoughts about the misery of life, the uselessness of caring about anything, or the hopelessness of changing anything. Find your excuse to cop out, drop out, and give up. Let your body melt into the earth. It will anyway, cause’ life’s a bitch and then we die.
8. Downward Facing Dog Pose. Now lift up high to Down Dog once more and consider that this might be the closest any of us gets to our personal idea of heaven or the afterlife. Bend one knee and then the other as you walk your Dog to the Pearly Gates, Paradise, Nirvana, or your next incarnation. When you get there, remind whoever or whatever is guarding the entrance that you have a Self-Awareness coupon for admittance that never expires.
9. Lunge Pose. Step your right foot forward. Come into your lunge. As you gaze toward the horizon this time, exhale calmly because you are doing your part to save the Earth. You recycle paper, cardboard, and plastic containers numbered one through seven, take cloth bags to do your grocery shopping, use public transportation, carpool, bike, or simply walk when and wherever possible and refuse to use single use plastic bags and bottles.
10. Forward Fold. Step your left foot forward and release your spine, head, and neck. Hang there in Forward Fold and let all the little white lies you’ve ever told to save someone else’s feelings drain out of your ears. Hold the pose and release the negative self-talk that keeps you angry, sad, and cynical. Let them fall out of your slightly parted lips. Lastly, notice the unhelpful core beliefs that drip, drip, drip from your nose, clearing your sinuses and alleviating any seasonal allergies. YAY! There’s a beneficial side effect.
11. Standing Twist Left (Rishi’s Posture). Bend your right knee as you inhale and lift your left arm out to the side and up. Twist your upper body to the left. Reach up high and let your energy slowly rise along with your arm. As you exhale and lower your arm, you realize that as messed up as things seem, YOU WILL BE OK.
12. Standing Twist Right (Rishi’s Posture). Bend your left knee as you inhale and lift your right arm out to the side and up. Twist your upper body to the right. Exhale and lower your arm. Remember what Lena Horne, the award–winning singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist said, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
13. Upward Salute. Inhale both arms overhead. Reach up high toward the sun. After all it’s going to be there for at least a billion more years!
14. Mountain Pose. Stand tall, arms by your sides. Feel your feet planted into the Earth and as you prepare to move from your Full Catastrophe Sun Salutation into your day, don’t yourself too seriously, and as you enlighten up through laughter, remember to share your joy with others!
BETH GIBBS started her yoga practice in 1968, four months after her son was born and she’s been practicing ever since. She currently teaches all levels therapeutic yoga classes for adults, and specialty classes for seniors in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Beth is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is guest faculty at the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She writes for the blogs, Yoga for Healthy Aging, and Accessible Yoga. Her master’s degree from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA is in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health.