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S2 EP159 – The Importance of Belly Laughter

Episode Summary

Full-bodied laughter is a wonderful way to relieve the stress of life, and that often underlies illness. When you do not allow yourself to express yourself with both laughter and tears, physical pain, due to stress and a lack of passion for life, may be the result. Are you able to belly laugh with your whole body?


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding podcast. Today I want to talk about a topic dear to my heart – laughter.

When I was growing up, I loved to laugh, and I used to go into deep belly laughter with my friends. But I never saw my parents really laugh. They would laugh quietly, from their throat – not at all like the whole body laughing that my friends and I did. And sometimes, I would get stern looks from my mother not to laugh so loud – it wasn’t ‘lady-like.’

Sadly, by the time I was an adolescent, I learned to be lady-like and suppress the intensity of my laughter. I can’t remember a single boyfriend who could laugh heartily. And neither could my ex-husband. He rarely laughed and when he did, it was up in his throat, not down in his belly.

It was many years before I re-learned how to laugh again with my whole body. When my children were the ages I was it when I used to laugh out loud with my friends, they would collapse into huge giggles, and I would join them. What a relief it was to be able to laugh again with my whole body!

But because my husband rarely laughed out loud, my belly laughter was also rare at the time. It was until I met Erika that I fully regained my ability to laugh deeply.

Erika and I have the same sense of humor. Things that no one else would think are funny, we find hysterically funny. Our laughs are very infectious, so when she laughs, I laugh, and when I laugh, she laughs – even if we don’t know what the other is laughing at! Sometimes we are laughing so hard that we can’t even get out what one of us found so funny and we laugh until we can’t hardly breathe, and our stomachs hurt from laughing before one of us can say what we are actually laughing at. And laughter has been a great healer for us.

Full-bodied laughter is a wonderful way to relieve the stress of life, and the stress that often underlies illness. Are you able to laugh with your whole body?

Like my kids and like I was when I was a child, most children laugh with their whole bodies – big belly laughs that come from way inside. Their laughter is not the polite, superficial laughter of many adults, which comes from the throat or face and contains little real joy. It’s easy to see and feel the great joy expressed in the laughter of children.

Take a moment to think about how you laugh. Do you still laugh with your whole body, or is your laughter tight and restricted? Can you feel your laughter shaking your whole body and stretching your face to the max with a deep full sound, or is it superficial with a tight smile? 

Laughter, like all our other feelings and behavior, is related to intention.

It is unlikely that you will be a full-bodied laugher at those times when your intention is to control how people feel about you.

Michael, a client of mine, has trouble laughing, and when he does laugh it is generally just coming from his face. He is often afraid of making a fool of himself in front of others. His fear of being vulnerable – of being hurt through some form of rejection or of being controlled and consumed by someone – is often far greater than his desire to be loving to himself and to share his love with others. As a result, he rarely allows himself to really laugh. His inner child is not very happy about this. Often, when he tunes into his feelings, he is aware of pain – the pain of not being allowed to laugh, the pain of the inner abandonment that comes from the intent to avoid the pain of rejection or engulfment.

It’s my experience that people love being around people who have a great laugh.

Deep full-bodied laughter is infectious. It gives us permission to let go, to be free to express the natural joy that is our birthright.

It is common knowledge that deep laughter is healing to the body because it is a wonderful way of releasing stress. There has been much research on how stress affects the immune system. Stress activates our natural fight, flight, or freeze reaction. When we are stressed, hormones pour into our system to activate our ability to run or fight. As a result, blood and energy is taken from the organs and the brain, and the immune system temporarily shuts down to bring blood and energy into our limbs. When stressed, we not only lose some of our ability to think clearly while we respond automatically with our fight, flight, or freeze reactions, we also create an unhealthy inner environment.

The problem is that most of our current stress does not require fight or flight. Since much of our stress is coming from our thoughts rather than from an actual event, we may be creating a constant state of stress with no way to release it. If we were stressed because we needed to fight or run from a bear, our stress would be released in the act of fighting or running. But if our stress is coming from self-judgment, or from a thought about rejection, or about being taken advantage of, or about time, money, or a relationship with a partner, friend, parent, or child, or about believing we have to be perfect to be accepted and okay, we may stay stuck with it for hours, days, weeks, months, or years. Eventually, this erodes our immune system and illness is likely the result.

Full-bodied laughter is an incredible antidote to this life-eroding stress. Deep, joy-filled laughter tells the body that we are safe, that we no longer need to be ready for fight or flight – and that we can unfreeze. As our system responds to this message, blood is again released into the brain and organs, and the immune system is re-activated. Deep laughter not only releases stress in the body, it also puts the body back into balance.

Deep laughter is not a luxury. It is an actual necessity for health and wellbeing. If you have trouble allowing yourself to laugh with your whole body, you might want to delve more deeply into your fears of rejection and engulfment, and into your intent to control how others feel about you.

Many people discover that the more they practice Inner Bonding, the freer they feel to laugh with their whole body!

Some years ago, there was a voicemail recording of an operations manager who worked for Jack-In-The-Box. He was late for a meeting and called his boss to tell him he was running late. As he was leaving the voice mail message, he witnessed an accident and went on to provide a “play by play” of the incident. This voicemail message was passed along and forwarded so many times within Jack-in-the-Box, it crashed their voicemail server. Then it was all over the Internet, which is when we heard it.

I’ve transcribed it, but some of the words are hard to hear. You might want to read the transcription along with the recording. The funniest thing about it is the man’s infectious laugh! No matter how many times we’ve heard this, we always laugh! He seems delighted that four little old ladies are going after a guy who ran a red light and ran into their car with his car, and then tried to insinuate that it was their fault. Here is the recording.

“Hey, Mark. Excuse me, I’m on my way at 37th and 68th. Kind of got hung up. It’s raining out here. I’m on my way into Dallas. Uh, Jerry’s probably gonna be calling you to find out, uh, where I’m at if he can’t get ahold of me. I’m sure. So, uh, thought, whoa, whoa, man. I just had a wreck right in front of me. This guy ran a red light and hit, uh, hit four old ladies in a, in an Impala. Just kind of clipped them and turned them around right in front of me. Man, that was close. Oh, now this guy’s getting out of his car. Got a, he’s got a white shirt on with a tie and a cigarette hanging outta his mouth. He’s throwing his hands up in the air. Like he, like, like it was their fault. Oh, hold on, hold on. He’s going over their window. She’s rolling down the window.

“Oh man. She, I think she’s sprayed him with pepper spray, man. He’s holding his head. He’s holding his face and he’s on his knee. She’s getting now. She’s beating him with an umbrella. <laugh>.There’s one woman with a little black purse. She looks, she looks she hitting him with a 20 horsepower jack hammer. Bam, bam bam! We got another woman that’s, <laugh>.that’s hitting him like she’s got a cattle prod, man. She’s got an umbrella and she’s sticking it in his side. Oh, there’s another one, it’s a little woman who looks like Mother Goose <laugh>.

“She’s got, oh, she’s beating him. She’s got, oh, she’s got this big bag. It’s huge. It’s about the size of her. She’s about four foot, nothing. She hit him over the head. Everything went all the place. Her bible fell. She hit him over the head with the Bible. <laugh>. She picked this Bible up and she lifted it way over her head. It was, it was a hard back NVI version. <laugh>, they still beating the hell outta this guy. She picked this Bible up and raised it up above her head and is beating the guy. This guy’s not getting up. Oh God, they’re still, they’re still hitting him. The one with the little black purse still  beating him. <laugh>. Oh, okay. He’s up on the<laugh>. The little old lady just beating him with that big bag. He’s running to his car. He’s outta here<laugh>. The Mother Goose woman, she’s, she’s talking to him as he drives off. <laugh>. I wish you would’ve been here, man. This is really too good. <laugh>. I gotta go.”

I hope you got a good belly laugh from this!

Both laughter and tears are natural gifts we’ve been given as ways to express our feelings.

My client, Ron, grew up in a household where laughter and tears were never expressed. Anger was the main feeling expressed by his mother, while his father was mostly withdrawn. By the time Ron was eight years old, he had managed to shut off both his laughter and his tears to avoid feeling rejected by his parents and controlled by his mother. Shutting down was his way of protecting against being invaded by his very controlling mother. He became a serious child – a controlled and controlling child.

Ron grew up, went to college, became a successful lawyer, married, and had three children. Yet nothing, not even his deep love for his children, managed to break through his rigid, controlling way of being.

Ron reached out for my help because he was not only very unhappy but was often in physical pain. All he could say about the physical pain was that he hurt. “My body hurts. My chest hurts, my stomach hurts and my back hurts.” He had been thoroughly checked out by a physician and learned that nothing was physically wrong. The doctor told him it was stress.

Ron told me that he spent much of his non-working time daydreaming and fantasizing because when he was present with himself in the moment, all he felt was pain. He had learned to daydream and fantasize to avoid the pain.

However, Ron was now 48 years old, and the daydreaming was no longer working well. The pain was breaking through, especially in the form of debilitating back pain, so Ron decided he needed some help.

The issue behind Ron’s pain was that his primary intention in his life was to control. He wanted to control how others felt about him, how well his employees worked, how his wife treated him and how well his children did in school. He also wanted control over not feeling the pain of rejection and the fear of engulfment that he had felt so much in his family. He especially wanted control over not feeling the pain of his own self-abandonment.

Ron’s control had worked for him to a certain extent. He was financially successful. He had all the material things a person could want – a beautiful home, a vacation home, a boat and all the electronics a person could ever use. He had a wonderful family and he had good health – other than his pain. Yet he was often miserable and felt no sense of passion about life.

The problem Ron was facing was that having control and not being controlled was far more important to him than being a loving person with himself and with others. As a result, Ron felt empty inside and was constantly looking to others to fill him up. He had no interest in taking responsibility for his own feelings – his own pain and joy. He wanted others or things to fill him and make him happy.

Imagine how a child would feel if you put him into a cage and told him he could never laugh or cry. This is what was happening with Ron. His inner child – his feeling self – was in a cage, not allowed to laugh or cry. Laughter and tears are our natural ways of expressing and releasing feelings. Without the God-given gifts of laughter and tears, our feelings get blocked up inside, eventually causing our muscles to go into painful spasms. This is what was causing Ron’s pain. He could no longer keep a lid on his feelings without feeling physical pain.

It was a tough battle for Ron. At those moments when he let go of control and opened his heart to love, the pain went away. But his terror of being rejected or controlled was generally more powerful than his desire to be loving with himself and others, and he would close up in the face of his fears. He feared that if he opened to his feelings, he would be weak and would be seen as weak, which he feared would lead to rejection, engulfment, and being taken advantage of.

Ron wanted something he could not have – the illusion of safety that being so controlling gave to him, while not suffering from the physical pain of being so controlling.

After much Inner Bonding work, Ron finally saw that being loving to himself by letting himself experience his laughter and tears did not cause weakness, nor did it bring about the rejection and engulfment he feared. In fact, by being more aware of his feelings and allowing himself to express them, Ron learned that he actually felt safer, more powerful, and far more alive and passionate about his life than when trying to control everything.

Laughter and tears are great gifts that allow us to express and release our feelings in healthy ways.

One of the things that happens for me when my heart is completely open is that I feel everything much more intensely – both my pain and my joy. The joy is completely ecstatic with much laughter, but the pain is really hard, and if I didn’t love the joy and laughter so much, I would be tempted to shut down in the face of the pain.

One of the challenges for me is that, due to my level of empathy, I feel others’ pain acutely. This is one of the reasons I don’t watch the news.

A Super Bowl Sunday was one of those days of extreme pain and joy. After days of snow, the sun came out and our land looked like a fairyland with diamonds sparkling on the bare trees and shrubs. The Rockies loomed high and white, with spectacular Longs Peak, which is right out our breakfast nook window, shining majestically at over fourteen thousand feet, surrounded by the pink clouds of the morning sun. My heart filled to bursting with joy at the beauty!

Our morning with the horses was filled with love from the horses. They were so cute and cuddly and sometimes funny, and working in the barn always fills me with gratitude that we no longer have to manage our horses in the difficult conditions we previously endured before we moved to our current ranch. As love and gratitude flooded my being, I was again filled to bursting with intense joy.

The rest of the day I was busy videotaping for one of my projects. I felt happy and grateful that I was able to complete so many of the videos. 

I went out to feed the horses in the late afternoon, and by the time I came back into the house, I could feel Erika’s stress. For those of you new to the Inner Bonding Podcast, Erika, the co-creator of Inner Bonding, and I share a home as Golden Girls.

I don’t follow sports, mostly because I always feel the pain of the losers. But Erika loves the Broncos and was excitedly looking forward to them playing in the Super Bowl.

The game that year turned out to be a disaster for Bronco fans. By halftime, due to Erika’s updates, I was starting to feel sick in my stomach. I was picking up the feelings of the Broncos and the feelings of the fans, along with Erika’s feelings, and I felt intensely sad. Even though I don’t enjoy football at all, tears kept welling up. I asked her to stop updating me, since the pain in my heart and soul was very intense.

Soon after halftime, Erika turned off the game.

But my pain didn’t go away, because the pain of the players and the fans and Erika didn’t go away.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel others’ feelings so much, but then I wouldn’t be able to be the healer that I am. So, I accepted the pain and allowed it to move through me by crying to release it. I didn’t do anything to numb the feelings, because I’d rather have the emotional pain than be emotionally numb to the joy of life.

I also felt my own pain – a kind of loneliness I’ve always felt when I become aware that others don’t feel my pain to the depth that I feel theirs. I’ve learned that the origin of this is that I always felt my parents’ pain very deeply, but they never felt mine. Just as they couldn’t laugh deeply, they couldn’t feel their pain or mine deeply. I have experienced this with many of the people in my life, and at times it feels very lonely. But still, I continue to choose to keep my heart open to both the pain and the joy of life.

How about you? Are you open to both the pain and the joy of life, or do you numb with various addictions and other forms of self-abandonment to not feel the pain? Is it more important to you to avoid pain, or to keep your heart open to the pain of life so that you can feel the love, humor, and joy of life? Are you willing to sacrifice deep belly laughter to feel safe from deep pain, or do you have the courage to stay open to all the feelings of life?

I encourage you to practice Inner Bonding and develop your spiritually connected loving adult so that you can feel safe in feeling all your feelings, and I hope you deeply enjoy your whole-body belly laughs!

I invite you to join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And we have much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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