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By Stephen Sinatra, M.D.

Prescription for Health for your Spa Guests

A man walked into the doctor's office with a duck on his head. "What seems to be the problem?" asked the doctor. "I've got a man stuck to my feet!" said the duck.

Laughter is, indeed, potent medicine for your heart. When you laugh with your whole heart, the depth of your breathing increases, releasing trapped energy in your chest, diaphragm and even deep down in your groin muscles. Laughing, like crying, can bring up strong feelings. Do you occasionally get so carried away laughing that you begin to cry? Or, perhaps you use laughter to block and deny feelings. This reminds me of one of my patients, who is also one of my fishing buddies. Bill Kelly, a Vietnam combat veteran, finds it very difficult to cry or experience anger. I believe he has shut down many of his feelings to protect himself from the emotions connected to his experiences in Vietnam. But he does allow himself to laugh. In fact, his laugh has such an uncontrolled quality that when he lets loose, those around him pick up on his energy and howl along with him. This happened throughout our recent fishing trip to Canada, earning him the nickname "laughing hyena."

But Bill's laughter carries a deeper message as well. As easy as it is for Bill to laugh, it is equally difficult for him to cry or become angry. Laughter is his way of connecting with other people and, at the same time, it is his main emotional connection to his deep hurt about his combat experience.

Laughing "Saved" me from Seasickness

This brings to mind a therapy session I had with my teacher, Alexander Lowen, M.D., several years ago. As I was doing breathing exercises to open up the energy of my chest, I felt kind of silly and started to laugh. Lowen instinctively and intuitively knew this was good for opening up the rigidity in my chest. At that moment, he started to tickle me, encouraging me to laugh even harder. I remember feeling totally into my body and out of my head. I experienced a similar situation on a rough ferry boat ride from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia a few years ago.

There was a horrible storm, with water breaking over the deck six decks high. Many people became fearful and seasick. I was afraid that I would get ill, too, Fortunately, the comedy classic "Pink Panther" was showing on board, and I decided to watch it. I laughed so hard that I was too preoccupied to become seasick. While about 90% of the passengers on the boat were sick, laughing at this slapstick comedy literally "saved" me by taking my mind off the rough voyage, my fear of seasickness and loss of control.
Physiologically, laughter releases endorphins and DHEA, hormonal markers of health and well being. I'll be talking more about DHEA in my next article about aging and the heart.

Although it is not always easy to see the lighter side of things, if you can find some humor in most situations, you will begin to "lighten up." All too many of us avoid humor and laughter. As a physician, for example, I see this a lot among my colleagues. Most of the time, we physicians are just too serious. It is so important not to stifle the impulse to laugh.

Watch two Films and Call me in the Morning... Some of the best medical advice I can give you is this: now and then, let yourself go. Be silly and uninhibited, alone or with someone with whom you can let down your guard, even your spa clients. Go to your local video store and rent some movies with a high laughter quotient.

Remember, laughing, like its twin sister crying, promotes respiration while providing your heart with much-needed oxygen.

It's free, available to all of us, and most importantly, it's FUN!

May/June 1996

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