Did you know that laughter can be your best medicine? Over the last several decades, researchers have discovered that the health benefits of laughter are no joke. Some researchers believe laughter can help reduce stress, release endorphins, and improve circulatory and cardiovascular function. One of the pioneers of laughter research, Dr. William Fry called laughter a form of “inner jogging”.
While attending a yoga workshop at Yogaville, the Satchidananda Ashram in Virginia, my friends convinced me to try a laughter yoga class. When I walked into the room, I must admit, I was skeptical. The words yoga and laughter just didn’t fit, at least not for me. As we formed a large circle, I stood in a defiant Clint Eastwood stance with my arms folded. I thought to myself, “Go ahead… make me laugh.” As the class began, I tried to talk myself out of laughing, “This is silly! What am I doing here? What’s for lunch? I want meat.” It was the last day of a weekend workshop. Although I enjoyed my time there, I was tired of communal living and vegetarian cuisine. I didn’t want to laugh. I just wanted to go home. To my surprise, a few moments into the class, I broke down and began laughing. The sounds of laughter around me lured me in. It was seductive… irresistible. According to the research of Dr. Robert Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, my response was not unusual. Dr. Provine says, “We laugh 6 times more when in the company of another person than we do by ourselves, and 30 times more when we are in a group.” By the end of the class, my laugh was probably the loudest in the room.
Although laughter yoga is non-humor based, laughter and humor usually go hand in hand. I grew up watching comedic greats like Carol Burnett and secretly listening to Richard Pryor albums down our basement. Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some of comedy’s finest… the legendary Dick Gregory, and comedic genius Dave Chappelle. But, one of the funniest men I’ve ever known, the man who could make me laugh harder and longer than anyone else, was not a professional comedian or comedic actor. He was a news director. His name… Jim Allen. We met while working for the same company, Radio One in Washington, D.C… I was a part-time deejay who was trying to break into major market news, so I would volunteer in the news department several days a week.
Jim Allen instinctively knew the importance of keeping humor in the workplace, especially in an intense news department where you report on people and circumstances at their worst. He was a seasoned news man, politically savvy, intellectually astute. Jim knew something about everything. He was a strong writer and an even stronger news anchor. But, when I think of Jim, I think of the man who kept us laughing in the newsroom all morning long with his insane wit. Some mornings I would drag in feeling like I had bowling balls attached to my ankles. Jim would come in fully charged like a blast of caffeine. Suddenly, I would be awake, ready to take on whatever challenges he assigned to me. His humor was infectious, addictive. He made the newsroom feel like the family room.
I was driving home from work the other morning after doing my overnight shift at WTOP. It was around 5:30am. I was performing my usual ritual. I always listen to music on Majic 102.3 during my 40 minute ride home to help me unwind from a long night of anchoring news. What I heard next was unusual. A male voice made an announcement that completely unnerved me. He announced that Radio One, the place where Jim and I met, had lost another family member. He announced that Jim Allen had died. Thank God… there was no one behind me on the road because I slammed on my brakes without realizing it. I was shocked, hurt by the unexpected news.
Jim and I had lost touch after I left Radio One in the late 90’s. Every now and then I would wake up early on a Sunday morning, turn on my TV and see Jim on one of the local public affairs programs looking dapper, speaking eloquently about the topic of the day. Did I mention Jim was what we old school ladies would call fine? Although we hadn’t seen each other in a while, the lessons he taught me about news, about keeping a positive upbeat attitude and about having fun while you work were permanently etched in my heart.
Jim died after being diagnosed with stage four lung cancer last fall. He was 57. At his funeral, friends, family, and clergy all spoke of how his spirit remained positive and faithful until the end. I don’t think that came as a surprise to anyone. I wish laughter could’ve somehow cured Jim Allen. It couldn’t… nothing could because God was ready for his child to come home. I do feel comfort in the knowledge that Jim Allen is most certainly in heaven right now laughing with the angels.