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Are You Taking Mindfulness Too Seriously?

How to use Humor as Your Mindfulness Strategy

“Savasana…”

I’m lying on my back at the end of an intense 6:00am yoga class, dreading the part everyone else seems to love… “savasana.” This is where I’m supposed to just lay here for the next 5-10 minutes and pretend I don’t still need to rush home, pack a lunch, feed my dogs, shower, and get to work early to prepare for, what can only be described as a ‘colorful’ day according to my Outlook calendar. I suck at “Savasana.” I honestly just want the extra ten minutes right now, but I’m already the only guy in the class so I’m sure as hell not gonna be the first one to get up and leave.

The fact is, learning to slow down, relax, breathe deeply, and even meditate is good for our mental and physical wellness. Another fact is, that it can be hard – at least for me it is. It doesn’t mean I won’t stop trying (cut me some slack I’m already putting myself out there with yoga), but I’m just not sure I have the natural sense of calm and patience that some do. You know what I do have though? A sense of humor.

Why Meditate, When you can Laugh?

According to Time Health, a good laugh can actually give you a mental boost similar to what you get from meditation. Dr. Lee Berk, Associate Professor of Pathology and Human Anatomy at Loma Linda University found that:

“Joyful laughter immediately produces the same brain wave frequencies experienced by people in a true meditative state,” 

Essentially, laughter produces gamma waves which are the same ones produced when we meditate, and both activities end up stimulating our entire brain leading to mental clarity. There’s a plethora of other research about the positive effects laughter has on our brains including this information from The Mayo Clinic which states that laughter: 

  •  Stimulates organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases endorphins released by your brain
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothes tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress

What’s your Strategy?

If we believe the research, or just know intuitively that laughing, having a sense of humor, and trying to take life lightly are all good for us, then the question is how do we do it more regularly? Intentionality is key. If I say I want to eat healthier, workout more often, or even be a more patient person, I need to have some sort of a plan. I’ll need take some action to make these things happen, because just sitting back and hoping that healthier food simply finds it’s way into my life isn’t realistic. The same goes for humor. I can hope that funny things happen in my life and make me laugh or I can be intentional about finding and cultivating humor.

4 Ways to Add More Humor to your Mindfulness Strategy:

Laugh at Yourself

This is common sense, but not common practice. I’ve seen “Laugh at Yourself” as advice given in countless leadership and self-development articles, but nobody tells us how to do it and it’s much easier said than done. When am I supposed to laugh at myself? When I lock my keys in the trunk of my rental car on the way to a job interview? Not realistic. Perhaps I can laugh about it later, but having a sense of humor about it isn’t my initial reaction; I get scared, mad, and freak out. Here’s a modification to a mindfulness strategy to help you begin to see humor in your life in real time rather than just retrospect:

For the next two weeks, before you go to bed think “What’s one thing I did today that I can laugh at myself about?” Then, write that down in a journal or in your phone. At the very least you’ll end up with 14 funny anecdotes to use in conversation with people to let them know you don’t take yourself too seriously. But what’s more, is ultimately there will be a moment where something negative will happen during your day that would typically upset you, but instead you’ll think “I’ll be writing that one down tonight.” That’s when you know you’ve begun to train your brain to see more humor in real time, causing you less stress.

Play with Pain

Bad stuff happens in life, and it’s normal to feel like crap about it, but it’s also ok to actively seek out anything that might be humorous or make you smile, even during difficult situations. My home town of Santa Rosa, CA was absolutely devastated during the wildfires this fall. I was evacuated from my home for a week and friends of mine lost their houses. During and after that tumultuous week, here are a few of the things that made me laugh: 

  1. Tons of people were at Wal-Mart looking for masks for protection from breathing the smoke. A family in front of me was told they were all out of masks, but later as they passed the Halloween isle, their young son, yelled “Daddy, there’s some masks over there!”
  2. People shared a list of the most random things they grabbed when they evacuated that included “A lingerie nightgown and some Disney movies”, “a tub of Chik-fil-a sauce” and “My kids homework”. My thoughts were: a. What are all the other people going to think of this woman watching Disney movies in her lingerie at the shelter? b. Where do you even get an entire tub of Chik-fil-a sauce? c. Those poor kids finally had the best excuse ever not to do their homework and mom ruined it. 
  3. The Havstad family (below) who lost their home, but decided they were still going to take their Christmas Card photos in front of the fireplace!
Photo courtesy: parkwestonphoto.com  

In order to play with the pain of bad days or events, you can try these 3 ways to tease out humor:

-Compare it to something:  “This is worse than…” “This reminds me of…” “It’s kind of like…”

-Exaggerate it to a ridiculous extreme: “Hi honey, I blew a tire and I’ve been waiting for AAA for 3 hours but I’ll be home as soon as I can… Please tell the kids I love them, wish them luck in college, and text me photos if and when they produce grandchildren.”  Use Technology

According to New York Magazine, 88% of millennials define their sense of self more through humor than music, sports, or even fashion. Humor is more widely accessible now than it has ever been, so use that to your advantage. Before the ability to dial up anything you want on your phone or computer, we used to have to wait until late night and hope Letterman, Leno, Carson, or Conan were funny that night. Now, if you really want to laugh, you just need to have the presence of mind enough to seek it out. This isn’t the same as mindlessly scrolling through Facebook like a fingerpainting zombie hoping something funny appears. 

Actively cultivate a humorous archive for yourself. Find sites, videos, blogs, etc that make you laugh and save them in a “funny file”. From podcasts like Comedy Bang Bang! or one of my favorite shows right now, the all-female sketch comedy show “Baroness Von Sketch”, there’s no reason to hope for humor when you can harness it.

If you want a quick laugh, here’s my TED Talk on Humor to get you started:

Interact with Human Beings

Technology is great, but in a day in age where interacting with other human beings has become optional, people are still the best way to find humor. Have you ever watched something on TV you thought was actually funny, but didn’t laugh? I definitely have. You just maybe smirk a little and think “That’s hilarious” but no laughter happens? The truth is, we’re 30 times more likely to laugh around other people than by ourselves. So, if you’re not having luck adding more humor to your mindfulness regimen on your own, then get social and specifically find those friends of yours who make you laugh!

If you don’t have any funny friends, find a group. Believe it or not, there’s even a professional conference you could attend that’s all about the study and practical application of humor! The Association of Applied and Therapeutic Humor is an international conference where people across occupational disciplines come together to present new research and demonstrate novel ways of incorporating humor into things like business, education, healthcare, and well… mindfulness!

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