"Laughter is the best medicine” is a well known proverb, and like most adages, there’s a good bit of truth in it. Noreen Braman has certainly found it to be true; that’s why she teaches people to laugh — whether things are funny or not.

“The body doesn’t know whether you are laughing because you just heard a funny joke or whether you are laughing for no reason,” says Braman. “But no matter why you are laughing, it is good for your health.”

Braman will teach a workshop called “Managing Stress with Humor” on Friday, August 17, at 7 p.m. at the Center for Relaxation and Healing in the Princeton Meadows Office Center, Building 600, Suite 635. Cost: $22. For registration call the center at 609-750-7432.

The Humor Yoga workshop will help sharpen coping skills in a fun and relaxed multimedia presentation that includes group activities and games.

Braman will discuss “five steps for living joyfully, why humor is a necessary survival skill.” She will also explore the difference between healing humor and hurtful humor and how to change your own inner dialogue to help you feel more in control when dealing with today’s hectic world.

Braman has been interested in humor for most of her life. “I came from a rather dysfunctional family. I didn’t realize until I was an adult that I had learned to use humor to reduce the stress in my life,” she says.

She attended Rutgers University for a few years, but graduated “from the school of life” and began to write humorous stories. She has published several books of humor, which are available on Amazon.com.

But she also needed a day job. A Jamesburg resident, her current employer is the New Jersey Lawyers Assistance Program, which offers free, confidential help for attorneys with alcohol, drug, gambling, emotional, behavioral, or other personal problems.

It may not sound like the place of employment where a humorist would find her calling, but in 2010 things began to come together. Braman has attended many conferences and workshops on humor over the years and found a large group of kindred spirits when she joined the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.

In 2010 she attended a Chautauqua at the Shore conference in Cape May on “how humans can save the world.” A few months later her boss sent her to attend a presentation on humor and healing where she learned about another program — a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader.

After taking the certification, she began giving programs for a variety of groups, including Gilda’s Club, a cancer recovery group, and at nursing homes as well as for the Lawyers Assistance Program.

“Yes, I’ve taught lawyers in suits how to laugh for no reason!” she says. Laughter Yoga sounds like the beginning of a joke, itself, she admits, but there are many reasons why laughter and yoga do go together. The deep breathing exercises of yoga combined with the power of laughter benefit both our physical and emotional health.

Health benefits of laughter. Laughter, to Braman, is serious business. There are a number of studies on the effects of laughter on our physical and mental health, and she can cite them all, from an Indian physician who discovered that 20 minutes of “hearty laughter” can bring four hours of pain relief, to how the deep breathing that comes with a good belly laugh can pump more oxygen to the brain.

“A smile and a sense of humor are two of the most powerful coping mechanisms that humans possess,” she says. “Laughing reduces blood pressure, even smiling when you don’t feel like it can help to reduce your stress.”

Ha ha, ho ho exercise. She recommends the “Ha Ha, Ho Ho” exercise, a variation on yoga chanting. It’s an excellent exercise for stress relief and can easily be done in the workplace, she says. She particularly recommends practicing it to relieve the nerves that can come before delivering a presentation.

To do the exercise, chant ha ha and ho ho while pushing your hands away from your body, forward and down. The two different words, “ha” and “ho” help you to inhale and exhale more deeply.

Contagion Effect. Laughter is contagious — we’ve all experienced it. When seeing another person laugh it is difficult not to join in. That’s why Braman recommends laughing even if you don’t feel like it.

“The body doesn’t know the difference, and pretty soon pretend laughter turns into real laughter. That’s why we need to learn to laugh without depending on the funny stuff to get us started,” she says.

Laughter in the Workplace. As more people become aware of the benefits of laughter, laughter clubs have begun to spring up in the workplace. “The great thing is you need no special equipment, no fancy clothes, and there are no physical limitations. Anyone can join,” she says.

Unfortunately, today, not only do many people feel more stress at work, they are also more afraid to share a joke or show off their sense of humor. But laughter never has to be politically incorrect, says Braman.

The first thing to remember is to never make another person or group of people the butt of a joke. “The best way to make sure your humor is appropriate is to tell a funny story about yourself. What happened to you over the weekend that you can make into a story?” she asks.

Political humor is another serious “no no” in the workplace, she says, and never forward “those crazy E-mails” we have all received. “People have lost their jobs by forwarding the wrong E-mail,” she warns. Cute pictures of dogs and cats are fairly safe, but other than that, just chuckle silently and press delete.

Cartoons are an excellent and usually safe way to share humor. “Dilbert is the most shared cartoon in the workplace because it speaks to universal situations that every worker can identify with,” she says. Another good bet to pass on is the headline bloopers from Jay Leno.

Whether at home or at work, learning how to laugh — whether there is anything to laugh about or not — will make life better for everyone, says Braman. Just try it. Laugh out loud right now and find out how much better you feel.

— Karen Hodges Miller

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