Three years ago, my niece, Megan, was killed by her husband. This loss of this beautiful, loving and giving young woman rocked our family with grief. As I moved through the process of healing, I discovered Laughter Yoga. Becoming a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader, Teacher and, very soon, a Laughter Coach - as well as starting a weekly Laughter Club and a daily Laughter Practice - set me on the path of healing. The laughter gave me another outlet for the pain. What's more, leading and laughing with our Laughter Club also created a larger sense of comfort and connection, breaking down the isolation that accompanies grief. As my family laughed and cried together, we grew closer. We are now a Laughing Family.
In my work with seniors, my experience with profound grief is important because it is central in their psychological growth process. We have grief in common. The late Dr. Gene Cohen, who established The Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, conducted a groundbreaking study on creativity and aging. One of the many tests that were administered during the study was the Depression Scale. Not surprisingly, most of the participants were at least mildly depressed.
Think of it, as we age, our family and friends pass away, so our support system shrinks. Perhaps in our grief process, we find that we are not ready to make new friends. If we are placed in a facility that cares for seniors, our children and grandchildren may not be able to visit as often as we would like. If we are not engaged in activities that stimulate our brains, we may have little to talk about with our grandchildren. They may become bored, and the visits become even more infrequent. We are left with grief and social isolation.
Laughter Yoga addresses the need for social connection with both immediate and long lasting result. Biochemically, we know that dopamine, the love neurotransmitter, creates a feeling of intimacy. The increased serotonin provide uplift. In addition, the mirror neurons that cause us to reflect the emotional state of those around us who are joyfully laughing provide relief from sadness.
We know that the childlike playfulness that is at the core of Laughter Yoga causes insecurities to melt away. When I give a Laughter Yoga session at senior centers, my laughers always chat and laugh together afterward. Once after a Laughter Yoga session, one of my most laughers with Alzheimer's disease whom I am told is most aggressive and rarely talks except to complain, announced, "We should have coffee!" She and her friends chatted happily, and I'm told she smiled for the rest of the day.
Our seniors need the biochemical uplift and social connectedness of Laughter Yoga. My own experience proves that a person can suffer tremendous loss, apply Laughter Yoga, and live joyfully with a sense of community. Even as we waited three years to learn the fate of the person who caused my niece's death, not knowing if he would be brought to justice and incarcerated, I developed a successful laughing life and Laughter Yoga business. In fact, Laughter Yoga and my fellow laughers saved me.
If you have experienced healing from grief through Laughter Yoga, you too have much in common with seniors. You don't have to tell them your story of grief if it doesn't feel appropriate. Lead a class and they will experience the power of Laughter Yoga to heal and provide the crucial social connectedness necessary to vitality as a senior.
Last week, her husband was sentenced to life in prison without parole. I am grateful that justice was served, yet feelings of grief have surfaced once again. Shared tears, laughter and playfulness that affirm the total life experience once again have kept me centered with a sense of purpose and community. I was blessed to lead 5 Laughter Sessions last week, and these sustained me.
Another gift of laughter has been forgiveness. Today, I hope that one of my fellow Laughter Yoga Leaders will bring him sessions in Tennessee, as I hope to do with prisoners in Minnesota. People in any kind of institution need healing laughter. Don't hesitate to carry this message whenever you are able. You will be giving an essential gift to others who are in desperate need of uplift and connectedness.