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Get your laugh on

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What connection overcomes all barriers, transcending language and culture, that we share with the world? During awkward moments, the breaking point of an argument, or the natural exchange between best friends, laughter is the easiest communicator. It is also good for your mind, body and spirit — literally.

By laughing, your body and brain go through changes. This may be why more and more organizations are incorporating laughter into the program.

“Even chimps have a laugh-like response to tickling,” said Midge Wilson, a DePaul adjunct psychology professor. “There’s an adaptive value of laughter. People laugh when they are embarrassed, which calms them. It can be an appeasement gesture and social reinforcement.”

Nurse and certified Laughter Leader, Debra Joy Hart, elaborated on the different ways we are affected by laughing. The biggest changes happen in the body: taking bigger breaths, decreasing blood pressure and relaxation from stretched muscles.

“It’s a full body experience,” said Hart. “Laughter is for the body, humor is in the brain, and mirth is your emotional response.”

Laughter circles, such as laughter yoga, are run by certified Laughter Leaders. These circles are lead in hospitals, hospices, work environments and even homes. By forcing out fake laughs, your body is still reacting positively, mirroring the effects of real laughter, and hopefully turning into real happiness in the end. The body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. The psychological effects are the same. That means any giggle will do, even if you are not totally feeling it at first.

Laughter Leaders are taught about physical and physiological changes due to laughter, and then use either intuitive or intentional laughter to get people to the mirthful stage of laughter. Don’t mistake them for comedians-it is not about telling jokes, but rather having a system in place to run a therapeutic laughter circle.

“Intentional laughter is visually and verbally directed laughter not in response to any written or spoken joke or humorous scenario,” said Hart. “This is often described as ‘laughing for no reason.’ Intuitive laughter, on the other hand, is an inner-knowing and assessing your surroundings for releasing well-placed humor.”

There are more than 6,000 Laughter Yoga Clubs in 65 countries around the world, according to laughteryoga.org. One of them is located in Skokie, Ill. Meetings are every third Wednesday of the month, and there are neither requirements nor fees to join. By combining laughing exercises with yoga breathing techniques, the body releases feel-good endorphins and decreases cortisol, a stress hormone, giving you the feelings of ultimate relaxation and peace.

Not everyone needs laughing exercises in order to benefit; laughter can be essentially obtained through what makes you happy. This can take the form of standing on a rooftop overlooking the bustling city nightlife, spending time with friends who make goofy faces or cozying up on the couch with a blanket and some popcorn, watching your favorite comedy.

Victoria Barela, a freshman, thinks of this quote by Barney Stinson, the beloved character from “How I Met Your Mother” when she needs a good laugh, “When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead. True story.”

Physiological effects include the production of endorphins, which can increase dopamine level, widening of large blood vessels in the heart, and most interestingly, some studies out there show that it can even decrease bad cholesterol and lower blood sugar.

According to LaughterYogaChicago.com, Jeanne Calment, the oldest living woman in the world at age 122, attributed her longevity to “laughing a lot and not taking life’s negative events so seriously.”

Also according to the site, adults laugh fewer than 15 times per day and children laugh more than 300 times per day.

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If you need your daily dose of laughter, try going to a comedy club. Get your laugh on at these local venues:

THE SHOW BELOW
1540 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Wicker Park

Every Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m., performers from around the Chicago area and even from the rest of the country come together and put on a free comedy show. “The Show Below” is a great way to see a local comedy, and good for first timers. Simply by coming to the free comedy show, the bar gives out free personal pizzas with the purchase of a drink.
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THE PLAYGROUND THEATRE
3209 North Halsted Street, Lake View

Sunday night shows are free, Monday and Tuesday shows are $5, and the late night Thursday show is $5.
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SECOND CITY
1616 North Wells Street, Old Town

Every night besides Friday, after the scripted show is over the cast at Second City performs improv for free (space permitting).
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Get your laugh on