I recently went to a unique seminar with 2 presenters: Dr. Alanna Grant, a Molecular Biologist; and Liliana De Leo, a Laughter Yoga Leader Trainer. Alanna gave us an overview on “Epigenetics” and her research on the mind-body connection and how our cells can mutate and possibly cause illness. It’s about keeping the healthy cell turned on and the sick (cancer, mental illness, etc…) cell turned off? Instead of the old debate of illness being either biology or the environment; ‘Epigenetics’ is not either / or, but rather the combination of both. (If you are a nerd, check out this video which explains a bit of it. It’s under 10 minutes. But I hope you’ll read my whole blog!)
We all want relief from our health problems. When we are faced with mental illness, autoimmune disorders and other physical challenges, we might blame bad genes and resort to chemically or surgically altering things. I was truly delighted to see that Alanna is trying to scientifically add the power of thoughts to this debate of options to treatments. She is trying the prove the seemingly un-provable. Can our thoughts change our genetic makeup? I think it can! Here are 3 examples. 1) Miracle cures after praying fervently. 2) Placebos which is where someone takes a sugar pill and feels better. 3) Nocebos are the opposite of placebos; where they take something harmless and believe it can do them harm and it does; or refuses to believe that something will work and the medications have no effect. All from our thoughts!
Topday’s biggest illness causing problem?: Stress!
We feel beaten down by family expectations, demands at work, the uncertainty of what the traffic will be like twice a day or what our teenager is up to after hours. Although our grandparents were not immune to stressors: stress was less constant (there’s a bear run); and we had physical labor to take us out of the stress state (gotta go plow the field now). When under stress, we shut down non-essential systems to deal with the emergency; this includes our immune system. So, while we were plowing the fields, the adrenal systems took a break, the immune system kicked back in and we recuperated. The thing that makes stress today’s “bogeyman” isn’t that we have it; it’s that we have it ALL THE TIME! Over time, the cracks begin to show and our cells get sick. This negatively impacts our coping skills and we have more difficulty in our relationships, work performance, staying healthy… but, there are things we can do. The physical changes we can create have science backing it up and here’s two.
The counter effects of laughter.
The brain is the most wonderful organ. If we physically do something, after awhile, the brain thinks, “oh, is that what is happening” and alters itself at the cellular level. Liliana guided us through a few laughter yoga exercises and our brain started to tell our body that we were having fun. First, she worked at putting us at ease in this room of strangers. For some in the room, laughing in front of other people without a logical reason was out of their comfort zone. By immersing myself in this experience, I was surprised at how lighthearted I felt in comparison to when I came in. I was not aware of being particularly stressed but I could physically feel the stress leave my body within in a few minutes. The rest of my weekend was surprisingly calm even though I had a full schedule. Today, 3 days later, I still find that I can recapture some of that feeling and I seem to be more creative and MORE CONFIDENT!
“Fake it until you become it!” Amy Cuddy
In the group, when we were discussing how “uncomfortable” doing this type of exercise can be for some people. The facilitator stated that for many, it’s hard to “believe laughter yoga can make a difference” so people just hold back. I commented that, culturally, I get the sense that people express anger and opinions easily; but that happy go lucky people are often not taken seriously. The result is that we worry about becoming targets or “appearing goofy”, so we hold back on this natural anti-depressant.
Social scientist, Amy Cuddy did a wonderful TedTalks speech where she explained how our body language impacts our self-esteem, confidence and power. A simple 2 minutes of adopting a power pose can change the outcome of a job interview or elevate your coping skills. I invite you to take the time to view this video (21 minutes) and see how your day translates by adopting these scientifically proven power poses. By the way, laughter yoga includes these power poses.
So if you are looking to reduce illness without pills, expensive therapy or a lot of time; consider laughing for no reason on a regular basis and adopting a power pose for 2 minutes a day. Recently, a family member told me that she doesn’t think she should be too optimistic as she wants to be realistic and normal. I asked her “Since when is choosing to be happy and joyful – not realistic or normal?” I’m willing to be different! What about you?
“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.”
― Audrey Hepburn