If you’re blocked and can’t write, what’s the best way to get yourself pounding the keyboard again? Or let’s say you’re like me and you have a routine, so you force yourself to write even when you’re blocked, only to discover you’re producing dreck. What to do?
Remedies for writer’s block range from jogging to meditation, acupuncture, free writing, therapy, praying, or simply staring at the computer screen waiting for the Muse to strike. A better way to unleash your creative self is to use Laughter Yoga, a new technique that harnesses the physiological effects of laughter, to quickly put yourself into a creative mood. I’ve tried Laughter Yoga in group sessions three times and at home countless times. It really works. But, like everything, it has its good and bad side.
Laughter Yoga involves laughing for a sustained period of time without using jokes. You simply exclaim out loud with an enthusiastic volume and tone: “Ha, ha, ha!” or, if you like, “Ho, ho, ho,” or “He, he, he!” and add “Yay!” with arm and/or hand movements. It’s recommended you do Laughter Yoga with other people (a group of five is ideal), but you don’t have to. No special equipment or clothing is needed, you don’t do yoga poses, and, as far as I can tell, the differently abled can participate without a problem.
In the last twenty years, a lot of research has been done highlighting the health benefits of hilarity. When you laugh, air is forced out of your body, exercising the diaphragm muscles, causing the release of endorphins and serotonin, the feel-good chemicals.
Think how buoyant people feel when they undergo oxygen therapy—that’s what happens when you laugh. Shallow breathing causes anxiety, but the in-out deep breathing of mirth oxygenates the bloodstream, providing a natural high. As a result, a Laughter Yoga session boosts your mood and improves your energy level.
One of my go-to books about writing is On Writer’s Block by Victoria Nelson, who believes our writing self is like a child who needs to be nurtured, comforted, and played with. You should never abuse or treat your writer self harshly (“You must write this poem now. Get to work. What’s wrong with you? I told you to write. Hurry up!”) or the slave will one day give up or rebel, and then you’ll be blocked.
According to Nelson, if you’re blocked, you’ll need to coax your inner writer-child out of the blockage by putting the spirit of fun and playfulness back into your writing routine. And here is where Laughter Yoga helps resolves writer’s block: it activates your right brain, the source of the creative self, and puts you into a mood of child-like playfulness perfect for writing.
Now, when I get up in morning, after I’ve had my cup of coffee and before writing, I do Laughter Yoga until the Muse calls, as she will. I get into poetry writing quite easily these days. When I write poetry after Laughter Yoga, the words seem to glide from my fingers.
You do have to do more than simply chuckle over a joke or two or watch a comedy in order to get laughter’s benefits. Fifteen to twenty minutes spent laughing with a group is recommended in order to get its full effects. However, as a pre-writing exercise, I’ve had good results from laughing aloud by myself for five to ten minutes.
It’s best to start by attending group sessions of Laughter Yoga led by a certified Laughter Yoga instructor. Benefits can be sustained by participating in group sessions approximately every other week. The sessions I attended were led by Victoria Dym of Tampa and Pittsburgh, a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader whom I highly recommend. She is also a writer (http://www.victoriadym.com/).
Some people are embarrassed to burst out laughing for no reason, and “fake” laughter is easier to do with group support. But once you’ve tried it and found out how good it makes you feel, you’ll want to try it again.
Laughing on your own without a group is more difficult. First, you have to get used to the sound of your own laughing voice. Some people dislike the sound of their own voice on a tape recording; this is a similar problem. Once you get used to yourself laughing, however, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Then there’s the flak you might take from the others you live with (if such is the case) when you suddenly burst into laughter without explaining—or even if you do explain. It helps if you can get them to join you, but that’s not always easy. For example, using all my powers of persuasion, I couldn’t get my husband to join me in laughing out loud without a joke. And I can only imagine how tricky it might be to convince a self-conscious teenager to give it a try. I’ve had to accept that some people find the idea of laughing aloud on purpose so silly, they hesitate to give it a go.
Of course, my husband doesn’t stop me from doing Laughter Yoga on my own. And although at first he didn’t enjoy listening to me guffaw out loud for minutes on end, he’s used to it now; both of us appreciate my being in a good mood.
Laughter Yoga really is a healthy and effective way—without drugs, strenuous exercise, or therapy—to invoke a creative mood, the only negative being the possibility you might feel embarrassed, and one of the positives being an unblocking of your inner writer. My whole life I have loved comedy and jokes, though maybe what I truly love are the endorphins from laughing. If it seems weird to laugh out loud for no reason, please, forget your dignity and give Laughter Yoga a try. Right now—go ahead—join me in a round of ha, ha, ha’s!
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Eileen Murphy is professor of literature/English at Polk State College in Lakeland, Florida, and a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet with recent poems and/or reviews in Cultural Weekly, The American Journal of Poetry, Tinderbox Journal, Rogue Agent, Thirteen Myna Birds, Thank You for Swallowing, Rain Taxi, Glass, Arsenic Lobster, and a number of other literary magazines. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.