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Why does Joy Break Barriers? - The Healing Power of Laughter

Posted by Matthew Katz on Nov 23, 2011 5:52:00 AM

describe the imageEsther Russell is a professional laugh therapist and comedian.

Laughter has the power to truly heal; there’s nothing better than a good laugh when things aren’t going well. We can spend years in the therapist’s office, but ultimately talking 'till your blue in the face doesn’t generally heal anyone! Laughter actually changes the neuro-chemistry of our brains releasing “happy” hormones and those spiritual qualities of hope, faith and joy which makes us feel like anything’s possible.

Can you remember the last time you had a thoroughly hearty belly laugh?  You know, the kind that has you laughing so hard you feel as if your sides could split?  Maybe glimpses of these moments are stored in the archives of your memory and that’s where they are stuck. Perhaps your life has become so serious that you’ve actually forgotten how to laugh or sadly, you look at our way-too-serious “Fox News-CNN World” and just don’t find much to laugh at. In fact, you may even believe that laughter is frivolous or small minded.

If this sounds familiar, then think again, because there is nothing shallow about laughter. Laughter may be the single most important ingredient to promote a full and healthy life, on so many levels.

In Dr. Norman Cousins' book, The Anatomy of an Illness, he laughed his way back to health after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Numerous medical studies throughout the years now indicate that laughter and joy boost our immune system and are essential to emotional and mental well-being.

Let’s take a closer look at the nature of laughter. For infants and children, laughter is an organic, universal response to the sheer joy of being alive. Just watch your infant "cooing and giggling" spontaneously in the crib. Laughter is of course natural for youngsters (see the YouTube of giggling baby here OR when you click our workshop page below) and yet it requires a far more sophisticated trigger mechanism for us adults. An examination of laughter shows that what causes us to laugh is an improbable juxtaposition of opposites. When a process moves in one direction and then suddenly and unexpectedly changes to its opposite, laughter is generated. It’s this SURPRISE element we comedians use all the time as one of our many useful techniques to generate audience laughter.

In order to create lasting “Joy” in our lives, we need to break through our personal barriers which keep us stuck in old limiting patterns. As an improvisational comedy actress, I recognized that at the heart of improv lies skills for more joyful, elevated living: the art of taking risks, allowing for possibilities to open up in our life and simply “getting out of our own way.” Comedy improv requires a spirit of fun which insists that a person come out of their shell, break barriers, invite more joy and possibility into their life.

“Sometimes people are inhibited, finding it difficult to let go. My workshop in laughter therapy is transformational work. People need to be willing to appear foolish. It’s a shame when a person can’t laugh with others and also at themselves. Perhaps it is some previous shame that has gotten us stuck to begin with?” Joyfulness” allows us to see more possibilities; it connects us with something bigger than ourselves. This gets you unstuck and “out of your own way.”


Writer and scientist, Sharon Begley writes in Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain about an idea called “Neuroplasticity”…translated it means that the more we exercise our laughter, the more we can actually hardwire neural pathways in our brain for creative, out-of-the box thinking. That’s a WOW for me!

Different things speak to different people, but laughter works across the board. It’s a universal language like mathematics, but a whole lot less stressful, a-huh? It brings us back to this fundamental and more youthful place within ourselves. Join us!

Esther Rachel Russell, MA, is performer, teacher, screenwriter, laughter therapist and creator of the workshop: Joy Breaks Barriers!  For more information about Joy and Laughter workshops click here.


Topics: laughter therapy, joy, comedy, laughing, therapy, comic relief, letting go, laughter workshops, joy breaks barriers, healing power of laughter

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