Saturday, May 30, 2009
LAUGHTER AND FAITH
Karris Golden just wrote this opinion piece about laughter and faith for the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier in the Cedar Valley of Iowa.
Friday, May 29, 2009 12:01 PM CDT
Laughter proves to be good medicine
By KARRIS GOLDEN, firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Gentry loves a good laugh --- but don't laugh her off.
Gentry, laughter yoga expert and pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Lansing, has serious wisdom to impart.
"Laughter yoga combines laughter exercises with deep breathing, stretching and relaxation. When it is practiced in a group, it becomes absolutely contagious," she says. "Not only do people laugh, but they joyfully connect with one another and cultivate their own childlike playfulness."
By merging laughter with conventional understandings of "yoga" and "meditation," we tap into the additional benefits of mirth, deep breathing and contemplative focus, Gentry explains.
"It is surprising, even outrageous, to think of laughter as a form of meditation," she says. "Yet not only is laughter meditation one of the simplest forms of meditation, it is also a very powerful one. The physical act of laughing is one of the few actions involving the body, emotions and the soul. When we laugh, we give ourselves over to the immediacy of the present moment."
Laughter yoga and meditation can have deep, meaningful and spiritual benefits, adds Gentry. It is healing, soothing and builds compassion.
"The Bible says that the joy of the Lord is our strength," she says. "Yet with the many pressures modern people face, we don't always live with joy in our hearts. If we truly believe the good news of the gospel, I think it is imperative that we live joyfully."
The basic premise is that anyone can laugh, Gentry says.
"We don't need jokes, or comedy, or even a sense of humor to laugh," she explains. "All we need is the desire to laugh, to open up our hearts and let the joy of laughter flow."
It's deceptively simple. To laugh for "no reason" requires a certain level of vulnerability.
"Laughing in such a childlike manner is daunting to some people," Gentry explains. "They've been conditioned not to exhibit such behavior in public. This is why the concept of laughter yoga must be introduced carefully to convince them that it is valuable."
The "zealous laughers" usually bring the reluctant ones along, she says. "Even if they didn't intend to cut loose and laugh so much, it happens naturally when they see the exuberance of the others. By all laughing together, we give each other permission to set aside self-consciousness for the moment and laugh wholeheartedly."
Why laugh? Because laughter reduces stress, lowers your blood pressure, boosts immunity, eases physical pain and promotes happiness, Gentry notes. In addition, practicing laughter yoga can increase your creativity, physical vitality, communications skills and sense of well being.
Gentry presents laughter programs for churches and other groups, offering an in-depth look at biblical joy. And they laugh, of course. It's fun and fulfilling work, she says.
"Recently, I did a young women's retreat for a church in La Crosse (Wis.). They even brought their own silly hats, and we had such a wild time. It was amazing! We have also walked the sacred labyrinth while laughing and playing, and that's quite a spiritually enriching experience as well."
For more information or to contact Gentry, go to www.laughinglaura.com, write her at P.O. Box 11, Marquette 52158 or email@example.com or call (563) 880-2699.