Real Life

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

January 22, 2017

This weekend, Mani and I went to a “laughter yoga” meet-up. A new friend of hers who lives in Southern Vermont had suggested it, and we figured it fit into the catch-all “Why not?” category and said sure, we’d be there.

Saturday, driving over the river and into Northampton, there was a thrill in the air: The thrill of people showing up together and for each other. The undercurrent of urgency and defiance that laced this growing gathering by the fairgrounds, where the marchers were assembling. We drove past Aviva, who was getting a ride their from her dad, on the bridge; I rolled down my window and waved and she flashed me her “My Body My Choice” sign. I honked enthusiastically as we passed small groups of walkers on the sidewalks; people waved back at us.

But we did not join them. Instead, we parked behind the Forbes Library, entering the building through a side door that deposited us into the children’s area (which made us both nostalgic). We eventually found the Community Room, where we were the first ones. A few other women trickled in, then one man, and we chatted a bit.

One woman asked if Mani and I were roommates, and looked supremely uncomfortable when we said no, we’re married. Was she uncomfortable because we were a same-sex couple, or because she was embarrassed for having assumed otherwise? It was hard to say. Someone else mentioned the march — clearly having been caught off-guard by the traffic and not someone who might have had to choose between such a protest and some other activity that day. In other words, it was clear we were in what you could call mixed company. If the name “Trump” had come up, I’d have been out of there like a shot; for better of for worse, I’m not that evolved and any efforts I’ve made since November to “communicate” with Trump supporters have been dismal and discouraging.

But this was not a space to discuss anything political, which frankly, feels like everything. Instead, we waited until the “Laughter Pharmacist” arrived, which he did promptly at 12:15pm. And for the next hour, we laughed. Mark Sherry took us through a series of “games” designed to banish self-consciousness and release endorphins, ranging from having a “Vowel Movement” (my favorite) to greeting each other as roosters at daybreak. If it sounds ridiculous, it was– and that was largely the point.

Did you know that laughing immediately breaks down the stress hormone cortisol in the body, boosting the immune, digestive, and endocrine systems and increasing blood flow? Or that babies laugh as early as three weeks, not because you told them a great joke from the Borscht Belt, but because it’s as natural an evolutionary response as hiccuping?

Call me a convert.

What was really fascinating was to leave this hour feeling both more relaxed — I’d woken up Saturday a ball of agitation — but also realizing that we’d just connected with a dozen or so humans in a way so universal that perhaps, given the opportunity, some reciprocal dialogue and listening might have been possible. I never thought “Laughter is the best medicine” was so literal, but it could well be one of the things that enables us to stay resilient and steadfast in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

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