As a student I had an on-going “love/hate” relationship with school. I loved the exposure to new information and ideas and was fortunate to have decent teachers, but dreaded trying to recall what I heard in lectures or what I had read after I studied. It was painful.
The harder I tried, the more painful my efforts became. I tried different diets and supplements for the brain (even went “raw” for several years). I tried exercise and a large number of other methods.
There were times when I felt like an “under-achiever,” and yet because I was actually an “over-achiever,” I was sabotaging most of my efforts to learn “smarter – not harder.” Everything I tried had merit. It was the manner in which I pursued the acquisition of new concepts that kept me frozen. I was trying too hard. I would acquire a new “tool” and immediately “test” it to see how successful it would be. Each one seemed to take forever before I could experience noticeable results.
Through the years I noticed that many students were having similar challenges, at all grade levels. We were uncommonly stressed over learning.
Endocrinologist Hans Selye defined good stress as stress that is healthy or gives one a feeling of fulfillment. As students, we were clearly not experiencing this “good” stress.
All were experiencing the stress that restricts the proper flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. So how do we get this “good” stress? Bernie DeKoven says that “Playfulness is one of the signs scientists look for when trying to determine the health of a herd of animals. The healthier the animals and the safer the herd, the more they play. The same is true of the human herds.”
Does this playfulness help create the blood and oxygen our brains are screaming for? Yes! And when you add laughter to play, look what happens. Those “feel-good” endorphins, the “happy hormones,” start to multiply. And are we calmer and more relaxed after laughing and playing? And does this help us focus in a more productive manner?
I first became aware of the benefits of laughter after reading Norman Cousin’s book Laughter, the Best Medicine, in the 70’s. Since then, much attention has been given to the power of laughter as it is embraced by many hospitals, psychiatrists and psychologists. The founder of the American School of Laughter Yoga, Sebastien Gendry, says that “Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than at negative, neutral or stressed.
This has a lot to do with the fact that dopamine (which floods into the system when you are positive) has two functions: not only does it make you happier, it turns on all the learning centers in your brain, allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.” Now that’s what my brain wants to hear!
Dr. Madan Kataria and his wife created Laughter Yoga in India in 1995 which has resulted in laughter “clubs” all over the world. You’re sure to find a “club” near you. They’re free and they’re fun. Sebastien Gendry says “Laughter is like gold: it can be molded into any shape imaginable, yet never lose its intrinsic value.”
He says (based on many different research studies), “workers who laugh regularly, long and hard, focus better, think more creatively and problem solve better than co-workers who do not. People who laugh tend to be more efficient, more productive, and make fewer mistakes than their stressed-out co-workers. Because laughter reduces the damaging effects of stress on the immune system, people who laugh a lot are less vulnerable to illness and take fewer sick days from work.”
I became fascinated with laughter (as a practice) when I saw the possibilities for improving my focus and recall in and out of the classroom. It was never enough to hear “lighten up” (which I heard often, along with “chill”). I needed to know how to lighten up and laughter has proven to be the quickest, most efficient way to study smarter, not harder and actually have fun. As Dr. Kataria says, “If laughter cannot solve your problems, it will definitely DISSOLVE your problems; so that you can think clearly about what to do with them.”
Judy Watson is a clinical hypnotherapist, NLP practitioner, entrepreneur, Brain Gym instructor and co-founder of an organic apple ranch. She struggled with focus and discovered through laughter yoga that she could concentrate better. For more information see LaughterYoga.org.
Read more about good stress