Laughter & Breath

Have you ever laughed so hard that you can’t breathe? Your stomach aches, tears are rolling down your face, and your body is hunched over as you gasp for air!

Robert Beck examines the link between laughter and breathwork.

Laughter is good for you! My theatre company Oop-La! dedicates itself to making people laugh and spreading joy through stupidity. Image by Angus Stewart.

It is a fact, almost universally agreed, that laughter is good for you. Little is known about exactly why we laugh. It’s an automatic reaction to external stimulus. In a similar way to the way we might gasp when we see something shocking, we laugh when we see something that amuses us. It is often something that we cannot control. How many of us have got a case of the giggles at the most inappropriate of times? I remember vividly being stuck down by uncontrollable laughter when I was being told off at school. Something about my teacher’s red face as he yelled at me was really, REALLY funny! Laughter can get us into trouble but it feels so good to do.

Laughter is linked to endorphins in our brain that appear to be released when we see something that tickles us. Like when you eat a good meal or exercise, chemically, laughter makes us feel better. I guess what I’m trying to say is that laughter is a natural high! Therefore, much like breathwork, a regular practice of laughter can be of real benefit to your health. In fact, it is having a breathwork practice and an awareness of my breath that has made me all the more appreciative of the power of laughter.

I am a clown. I don’t juggle or walk on a tight-rope. However, I do make a habit of trying to make people laugh. Sometimes more successfully than others! Here again, breath is incredibly important and inextricably linked to laughter. In order to make people laugh, I have to be aware of my body and my breathing. As many performers will attest to, before I go on stage I steady my breathing and centre myself. Maybe I’ll do a few sun salutations and a stretch or two. I focus on my breath making sure that I am taking on enough oxygen so that I feel ready to go out on stage and make my audience keel over laughing!

I am a clown! I make a habit of trying to make people laugh.

A large chunk of my clowning is done through lip-synch and, once again, in order for this to work, I have to be aware of my breath. When I learn a track, I listen carefully to the speaker’s breath. Do they breathe deeply or do they grab short little breaths as they speak? Breathe is linked to posture and, therefore, once I understand how the character breathes I can begin to understand how they may stand, move, and interact with the world around them. I approach lip-synching as if it were really me saying the words. When I lip-synch a song I imagine I am really about to sing. Where are the pauses for breath and how do they affect my performance. Breath is the key to an accurate lip-synch.

I feel the same way after a breathwork session as I do after I have been laughing. I’m a bit spaced out, my body feels a little weird and I may well have been crying. However, I also feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted, and I’m ready to face the world anew. I owe a lot to breathwork and I owe a lot to laughter. Both have helped me through some difficult times and both continue to aid me in my personal growth and that’s no joke!

I owe a lot to breathwork and I owe a lot to laughter. Both have helped me through some difficult times.

Robert (Bubbles) Beck is urbanLIFECLASS’ group PA and administrator. He trained at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in Advanced Theatre Practice. He has also trained with the eminent clown master, Philippe Gaulier. He will be performing in the show ‘Encore, Encore!’ at Camden People’s Theatre on 24th March as part of Sprint Festival. Tickets available here: http://www.cptheatre.co.uk/production/encore-encore/

For more information on his theatre company Oop-La! visit: http://www.ooplatheatre.co.uk

Fore more information on his work with urbanLIFECLASS check out his page: http://www.urbanlifeclass.me/theteam/robert-beck/