Healing continues apace. As part of our family recovery effort (see my previous posts on this topic here: The Greatest Thing) and here: The Wiped Out Caregiver), we watched Sharknado last night while having a three-way texting party. One in which we basically “snarked about sharks” (specifically, made sarcastic and humorous comments about a movie that’s so bad it’s good). Our daughter’s back in her apartment now, and dealing with the none-too-pleasant side effects of chemotherapy. This long-distance giggle session was her idea, and we’re quite glad she came up with it.
Humor in general, and laughter in particular, is excellent for your mental and physical health. This is a fact both backed up by neuroscience and well-known by anyone who’s had their mood significantly improved by a bout of laughter! Smiling and laughing result in the release of endorphins, the brain’s natural pain killers/mood elevators. These in turn boost the immune system, reduce the damage that stress wreaks on the body/mind, and forge strong bonds between the people sharing in the laughter. Our family Sharknado night certainly gave us all a much-needed lift.
The healing power of laughter is especially important for people undergoing chemotherapy. The process essentially consists of having poisonous chemicals infused into your bloodstream over several months to kill off cancer cells; unfortunately a lot of healthy cells get the axe as well. As a result, you feel run down, lethargic, and just plain lousy. Watching goofy movies, reading your favorite comical authors, and hanging out with people with a good sense of humor can be extraordinarily helpful in counteracting these unpleasant side effects.
In his book The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, my favorite spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hahn tells his students to practice what he calls “mouth yoga”:
We are able to smile to ourselves and release all our worries. There are more than three hundred muscles in our face, and when we know how to breath in and smile, these muscles can relax. This is “mouth yoga.” We smile and we are able to release all of our feelings and emotions. 1
1. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hahn, Broadway Books, 1999.