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8 Pillars of Joy: Humor

Peggy Burt, Spiral Heart Yoga 9.20.22

I continue the journey of exploring the Pillars of Joy as described in The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu et al. The book outlines the 8 Pillars of Joy as: perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.

Pillar of Joy 3: Humor

This week I am exploring humor as it relates to our yoga practice. Humor shows up in my class pretty much every single time I step on the mat. Being on the mat makes me feel lighthearted and I think that lightheartedness leads to a deep seated devotion to not taking one’s self too seriously. As you begin to feel this expansive sense of your heart, you might even feel it as a glowing golden light. And that light might begin to warm and soften every part of the body, mind and breath…

When we can laugh at our very human experience, we can expand our awareness of what other human beings are going through. As we look for the light, even in the darkest and most dire situations, we can begin to work our way back to joy.

Sometimes, in yoga class, I bring in movements that make me giggle on the mat. One of my favorites is the “roly-poly” where you roll on the spine, coming back up to sit in the boat pose for a moment, only to fall back into the roll once again. This is pretty much guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, and lightness to your spine.

One of my favorite movie scenes is from Mary Poppins, where Uncle Albert sings “I Love to Laugh”. In that very silly scene, laughter brings on a sense of joy and happiness, and soon, everyone in the room feels that same joy. As they float up toward the ceiling, we are reminded that humor and laughter can lighten a mood every time.

On the yoga mat, we are encouraged always,

to take ourselves lightly and let our hearts rise with each breath.

The Dalai Lama suggests everyone let themselves be playful and find the funny in life. In his book My Spiritual Journey, he writes that he comes from a cheerful family that is always “amusing ourselves, teasing each other, joking. It’s our habit.”

Research from the Mayo Clinic states that “A good sense of humor can't cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do.

A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn't just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are 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 and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.

  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Laughter isn't just a quick pick-me-up, though. It's also good for you over the long term. Laughter may:

  • Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.

  • Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.

  • Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.

  • Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your stress, depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier. It can also improve your self-esteem.” Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke.

On the mat or off the mat, may you feel the wonderful effects of a light heart with more laughter and joy every day.

The 8 Pillars of Joy from The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

By His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu et al. Random House Publishers.

Photo of Peggy by Gerry Puhara

Sun photo: royalty free from

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