Laughing Rationally, Aging Well
If humans really were rational animals, we would be laughing at aging, purposely, together.
Ten million years ago, eons before learning how to control fire or speak a word, our ancestors were communicating using a form of laughter. Now we also laugh for joy. Laughing, this wonderful mysterious behavior, is not an adjunct to apes becoming human, but a key factor shaping Homo-sapiens.
We have used laughter far longer than we have spoken language or used tools. Our evolution is ongoing and laughing is changing right along with us, and still guiding and goading us into new abilities, and new horizons. Now, as a species and an individual, we may age consciously.
A more benign and potentially radical human form of purposeful laughter is laughter yoga. Developed in 1995 by Indian cardiologist Dr. Madan Kataria, who was seeking new therapies for his heart patients, he discovered the work of laugh pioneers such as Norman Cousins, Dr. Robert Provine and Dr. Lee Burke. Kataria used the insights of Eastern yogi’s related to prana, (what Westerners might call “spiritual energy”) and breathing combined, with a series of childlike play actions in a can quickly induce deep laughing, especially among crowds. Ramifications are so far reaching the Mayo Clinic recommends laughter yoga.
Benefits of laughter found by Dr. Burke, at Loma Linda University, include pain relief, stress reduction, better blood pressure, better heart health and more oxygenated blood. Laughter also enhances mood and promotes creativity.
It is no joke to say that laughing provides the benefits of expensive pharmaceuticals without the side effects.
Meanwhile, another pioneer was posing questions on aging. In the 1995 work, From Age-ing to Sage-ing- by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi- and Ronald S. Miller, the authors suggest a noteworthy approach to taking practical steps to “harvesting” an “elderhood” of empowerment in a physical, social and most beneficially for all, a spiritual sense. The work was extremely timely, as average life spans over the century expanded from 40 to some 70 years, an entire second adult lifetime.
Rabbi Schacter-Shalomi, who founded the Spiritual Elder Institute, puts it thusly, “If you have an extended life it is clear to me you need to have extended consciousness. It is so clear to me extended life is a depressive thing, if you do not have extended consciousness,”,
Laughing is the antithesis of a “depressive thing” both in the moment and over a lifetime. In the decades since these works, purposeful laughter has been developing. This new form of laughter and the power behind nascent laugh therapy is proving extremely intriguing, even giving hints of promoting extended consciousness.
Humans, of course, cannot live by laughter alone, but laughing and laughter therapy may be seen as a spear point of sorts, a leading edge of empowered aging and extended consciousness.
And what is empowered aging and extended consciousness? That is what we are learning, but we already know laughing is one enjoyable and powerful way of exploration.