photo by Darrol Hofmeister
A Few Good Giggles
Have a catastrophe? Meet the laugh line of defence
by Carle Steel
Jayne Clendening is a laughter yoga teacher and therapeutic clown. She discovered laughter as healing practice after cancer and other disastrous life events left her severely depressed and with post traumatic stress disorder. Ten years after her last tangle with cancer, Clendening spreads the joy in Regina through laughter clubs and workshops.
How did laughter save you?
It gave me a sense of purpose. After chemo, I became more right-brained (not that I wasn’t before — I was always a cheerleader). With chemo-brain I found it difficult to focus, so I decided I had to do something differently. I took on laughter not knowing where it would take me. I learned how to laugh without having a reason, as an exercise. The laughter allowed me to release the emotions and the fear and many different emotions that I had suppressed; it was like a cleansing.
They say that about a good cry. What is the effect of laughter on the body?
There’s a fine line between laughter and tears. As you laugh you can feel the muscles in your stomach contracting, and in doing so you’re getting rid of CO2 that sits in your belly. The same happens when you cry. But with laughter, you’re also releasing endorphins, which are happy hormones similar to morphine. When you’re releasing those hormones you boost your mood and your immune system. If you’re producing endorphins, at the same time you cannot release cortisol, which is a stress hormone. So it’s reducing stress, because those hormones are not then affecting your body. Stress causes illness.
Personally, as one who has experienced cancer in a number of formats, I truly believe if I can laugh and reduce stress — and I have a lot of stress in my life — my natural T cells will do their jobs.
I never advocate that laughter is the only medicine. It’s good complementary medicine. Without that, I know I would not have managed as well.
What if you can’t find it in you to laugh?
It’s true; some people can’t.
When I work in the mental health ward, the people are there for a reason. I tell them you don’t have to be able to laugh. Start with a smile, and if all you can do is turn up the corners of your mouth, you are changing the way you feel even by that simple process. If you can even get a ‘huh’ out that’s one step further. If you can have a belly laugh that results in tears, it’s so healing. I’ve seen miracles.
If laughter is the best medicine, what’s the proper dosage?
According to [cardiologist and researcher] Dr. Michael Miller, it’s 15 minutes a day. Kids laugh 200-400 times a day. Adults laugh 12-15 times a day, and those are adults who are not clinically depressed; those are average people. With stress, conforming, school, left-brain requirements and adult responsibility, we forget how to breathe and how to laugh. We should be breathing from our belly like a baby, but with stress we tend to breathe from out chests. Laughter exercises are a conscious way to work the breath down to the belly.When we laugh, our body responds physically and emotionally. The body doesn’t know the difference between real laughter and fake laughter.
It helps that tragedies are really funny. Can we have calamity without laughter?
There is a fine line between tragedy and comedy. You think nothing else can happen and something does. My God, what else? You have to be able to laugh during the difficult times. I know that from experience.
In a time of sadness it doesn’t seem right to be high spirited, but that’s when you need it the most. It’s contagious. If you can have some joy in those days, the person who is suffering the most will find joy in that day as well. It’s about seizing the moment. All we have is the present moment, so take that opportunity to smile.
We all have suffering in our lives we all have grief. It goes on and on. This is a tool to help me manage my grief. As I began to help others heal, I was healing myself. It’s one of the gifts that come to me with this work.