Resources for Recovering Resilience: Play and Laughter for Well-Being

The absence of play and laughter predicts divorce far more consistently than the presence of outright animosity.
– John Gottmann, PhD, director of the Gottmann Institute for Researching and Restoring Relationships

We bond and build trust with others through play, fun, laughter – moments of openness, curiosity, novelty, lightheartedness, joshing around, sometimes outright silliness. Play fosters a sense of connected presence. The absence of play signals disconnection, distance, detachment. Animosity, though damaging in its own way, at least requires a focus of attention, an engagement, which serves as a form of connection if more adaptive channels are not available.

An excellent resource for couples: We Are No Fun Anymore: Helping Couples Cultivate Joyful Marriages through the Power of Play by Robert Schwarz and Elaine Braff, whom I met at the recent Psychotherapy Networker Symposium.

Below is are three exercises from the August 2009 e-newsletter on Laughter you can do on your own or with a friend/partner to generate a genuine sense of emotional, mental and relational well-being. And then announcements of workshops where even seriously intentional person growth can be experienced as playful.

  1. Laughter yoga

    Laughter yoga is a form of exercise based on the principle that you can – and probably should – laugh independently of your state of mind or mood. Laughter is used as a form of breathwork and, like other forms of yoga, helps bring the body-mind into harmony and balance. More fun if you can do this with a group of friends – laughter is contagious – but an excellent way to begin the day on your own as well.

    Lie on your back on the floor or in bed. Bend your knees and lift them toward your head as though you were sitting. Reach up with your hands and grab your toes, or shins, or knees, whatever you can reach comfortably. In yoga circles, this pose is called happy baby pose or dead bug pose.

    In this posture, begin the laughter trajectory: smile, chuckle, laugh, belly laugh. The silliness of the posture helps. Continue belly laughing for 5 minutes, then slowly lower you legs back down to the floor or bed. Relax; breathe, enjoy any ease you are experiencing. If you do this exercise every morning for two weeks, you will notice a profound shift in how you step into your day.

  2. A 15 Minute Laughing Meditation created by Dhyan Sutorious

    Do this with at least one other person if you can. Find a quiet, secluded place where you can sit together comfortably.

    Stand to stretch, legs solidly planted. Stretch your muscles as you exhale, relax briefly as you inhale. Repeat this a few times as you reach over your head. You may also use your right hand to pull your left arm over your ear; and vice versa. Loosen your fingers by pulling them gently back with the other hand ( repeat with each hand.) Stretch your facial muscles by making
    funny faces and grimaces… without laughing.

    Smile; then slowly, without forcing yourself, laugh with a relaxed throat. Laugh softly at first, then louder until you’re bellowing heartily from your belly. Don’t force anything. Allow it to happen.
    “Évery second of your attention should be directed at what presents itself to you at that moment: laugh or cry with it or be silent. The essence is being aware, accepting, and letting go. The moment you totally accept the situation, the other person or yourself, you can laugh with it.” (In the final minute of the meditation, close your eyes and continue to laugh.)

    With your eyes closed, slowly stop laughing and breathe quietly without sound. Each time you notice you’re thinking of something, let the thought go and focus your attention on your body breathing. Whatever you are feeling, notice it, allow it, accept it. Rest in ease.

  3. Advanced laughter meditation
    Steven Sultanoff, professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and an authority on the therapeutic uses of humor, has found that laughter, the physical response to humor, opens us up to the psychological benefit of humor. “Humor triggers wit, and wit shifts belief systems and thinking patterns and prompts changes in attitude.”

    Follow the same trajectory of laughter as in the laughter yoga and laughter meditation above: smile, chuckle, laugh, guffaw, deep belly laughter.

    Once the state of laughter is solid and steady, bring to mind a nagging worry, a recent sorrow or hurt, a moment of disappointment or chagrin. It doesn’t have to be a big moment, though with practice it can be.

    Allow the laughter to “hold” the moment. The laughter may calm a bit; certainly the worry or chagrin will shift a bit. The feeling of difficulty may not resolve entirely; that’s fine. But noticing that laughter can shift a mood state empowers us to use laughter as skillful means to cope with the ups and downs of our days more gracefully, more resiliently.


The EarthRise Center at The Institute of Noetic Sciences offers a wide array of Conscious Living Workshops. IONS is a beautiful (and affordable) 194-acre retreat center in the northern California hills with fabulously healthy meals and opportunities for unparalleled relaxation and renewal. Below are three workshops I can vouch for because I know the leaders well (or am leading the third myself.) Click on the link for more info/registration.

Friday, April 12 – Sunday, April 14

Beyond Words: Poetry and Music as a Portal to Awakening – Kim Rosen and Jami Sieber (see January 2010 e-newsletter Poetry as Transformation.)

Poems, prayers, and music can speak the mystery, the silence, the ineffable joys and sorrows of the inner life. When you take them deeply into yourself and speak them aloud you cause shifts in your feelings, your thoughts, and your biochemistry that open consciousness, aligning you with what matters most. You are giving voice not only to the words but to your own soul

Sunday, May 21 – Friday, May 17, 2013

Mindful Self Compassion with Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer (see September 2012 e-newsletter Self Compassion More Powerful Than Self-Esteem)

Self-compassion is a key element of mindfulness when we contact suffering. Whereas mindfulness typically focuses on present-moment experience, self-compassion focuses on the experiencer. Mindfulness says, “Open to your suffering with spacious awareness and it will change.” Self-compassion says, “Be kind to yourself in the midst of suffering and it will change.” Mindfulness asks, “What do I know?”, and self-compassion asks, “What do I need?”

Self-compassion can be learned by anyone, even those who didn’t receive enough affection in childhood or who find it embarrassing to be kind to oneself. It’s a courageous mental attitude that stands up to harm, including the harm that we inflict on ourselves through self-criticism, self-absorption, and self-neglect. Self-compassion provides emotional strength and resilience, allowing us to admit our shortcomings, forgive ourselves, and respond to ourselves and others with care and respect, and be fully human.

Friday May 24 – Sunday, May 26, 2013 with Linda Graham

Bouncing Back: Resilience and Renewal

A weekend of strengthening your inner resources and the natural resilience that supports your well-being and flourishing. You’ll learn to use more than a dozen tools and techniques – drawn from the intersection of brain science, relational psychology, and mindfulness practices – that will help you handle the everyday disappointments and extraordinary disasters of life with more calm, courage, and flexibility.

No matter how you may have been impacted by stress and difficulties in the past, you can learn new and creative ways to navigate the twists and turns of life more flexibly and resiliently now.