Healthy Outdoor Living

The Tao of Camping


More from Outdoor Living Newsletter April Outdoor Living Newsletter
 
Woman in the outdoors laughing
Laugh your worries away, in the great outdoors

The sights and sounds of a beautiful wooded campground naturally lend themselves to mindfulness and meditation. But who says meditation needs to be a solemn, still endeavor? Many have said that 'laughter is the best medicine', so giggle away your cares with raucous irreverence and cultivate a healthy sense of humor about yourself by trying a simple laughing meditation.

What is Meditation?

Meditation is characterized by focused awareness on any chosen object while taking a passive attitude toward our thoughts. But what does this mean, exactly, in practice? Read the next sentence syncing up your breath with each word. Our (inhale) breath (exhale) is (inhale) the (exhale) easiest (inhale) object (exhale) on (inhale) which (exhale) to (inhale) meditate (exhale). Ok, so aside from hyperventilating, you just did a little meditation!

Most likely your thoughts slowed and your focus narrowed so you became more present and less distracted. Because we want to take a passive attitude toward our thoughts when meditating, reading is not typically paired as a meditation object, but it does show that you can use almost anything as an object - a crackling campfire, your hiking rhythm, a trickling stream. Whatever object you use, when your mind wanders to your thoughts or elsewhere, gently bring your awareness back to the chosen object. Keep doing this over and over again. That's meditating.

Cultivating the Tao of Camping

It's a common myth that proper meditation involves stopping our thoughts or emptying our mind. In my experience when teaching meditation, many shy away or think they are bad at it, because of such misinformation. First, striving to be good at meditation, or judging our performance as good or bad is counterproductive to the goal of meditation which is to be present experiencing the moment, rather than evaluating the moment. But again, thoughts are natural so if you do find yourself judging or striving, simply notice the thought or feeling and return to the object of focus.

We're no more likely to stop our mind from thinking than we are to stop our heart from beating or our lungs from breathing during meditation. Thinking is just what our mind does. But having our awareness constantly following our thoughts can be as exhausting as following a curious two-year old around the campsite while trying to make dinner. Rather, think of setting the two-year old up in a safe and entertaining play area. They will still point, name, ask, touch, play, wiggle. But your focus can be elsewhere with only a subtle awareness of their activity in the background. So in this example our minds are like two-year olds? Exactly, but yours is a completely fun, adorable, curious and cuddly two-year old, *wink*.

How to Giggle Away Your Cares

Laughing meditation is a chance to give our adult self (or our observing mind) a chance to get in on the fun. Laughing makes a perfect meditation object in that it spontaneously invokes a trance like focus.

In recent years laughter has been formally incorporated into meditation, yoga, and the healing arts as so many practices are coming to understand the healing benefits of laughter. Laughter's physical and mental health benefits range from releasing tension, improving immune function, to lowering blood pressure, increasing motivation.

It's easy to imagine how spontaneous bursts of laughter could tunnel your focus letting the world's troubles or mundane thoughts fall away. But short of rubbing two wet sticks together and hoping for fire, how can you ignite a real laughter fest? It's easy. Ready...Go! No Tickle Me Elmos allowed! Actually, pull Elmo's string if you have one. Short of a tepid he he he most of can use a little more inspiration to get going. Listening to others laugh can be infectious and is often a part of laughing meditation workshops.

For other ways to get going, you might gather your camp mates around the fire, (or a tree stump, gas pump or circle your backpack wearing friend). Put on some tribal drum music, or have your most percussion gifted friend keep a beat. Now to get the laugh fest going start with three basic steps of laughing meditation: stretching, breathing deeply, and noticing the sensations and movement.

Just start on your own with whatever comes to you, stretch, breathe deeply, and notice the sensations. Again, stretch, breathe, notice. Now, get creative...stretch like a cat waking up, stretch like you're trying to reach a mosquito bite, or stretch like you're balancing in the woods holding a weak branch and trying not to pee on yourself. Which reminds me- it's a good idea to do this on a fairly empty bladder and stomach.

You can do this on your own, but if in a group, everyone can move at once turning toward the person on one side, then the other. Or take turns stepping into the circle to showcase your stuff, or challenge each other Make Me Laugh style. Now really get into it and this time add a big, Santa meets the Jolly Green Giant laugh lifting your arms and shaking them with your body in sync with each exhale and each ha, ha, ha! And Again HA, HA, HA! If laughter starts to swell just go with it.

Need a little more inspiration - return to stretching and breathing. Think wild animals. Stretch your face, your neck... your arms, shoulders and chest. Stretch your whole torso, legs, fingers and toes. All while breathing in deeply and exhaling fully. Reach to the sky, hover the ground, curl the torso in, lift the heart up and out, isolate, undulate, follow your animal spirit and call out. All the while with deep breaths in and out. Or try pulsing breaths out through your nose while snapping back your solar plexus, sounding almost like a panting dog. Again, ha, ha, ha! And add a caveman roar - *Auaurr* raising your hands above your head.

Or try this - I've heard this called the dragon breath, or goddess pose by various yoga instructors. Inhale deeply and on the exhale stick out your tongue and exhale "Haaaah!" for a completely exaggerated tongue pointing release of air. Now add this movement to the breath - inhale lifting your body and arms up a little. Exhale while squatting, arms bent, hands up and fanned out wide. Inhale, lifting the body and arms up, move into position, and exhale a full and mischievous "Haaaaah!"

Notice the sensations, the warmth, the energy and movement, and allow the smiles and laughter to flow. Intentionally laugh and experiment with different types and volumes of laughter. Think of funny things, ticklish things, annoying things, hot messy things, and L A U G H. Let the laughter grow, and notice the sensations letting them flow.

If self-conscious thoughts arise simply notice them and return to the sensation and sound. Notice any movements taking you away from your body, shallow exhales which may interrupt the flow of pleasurable sounds and sensations. These may be signs that you're having difficulty tolerating the pleasurable experience and trying to plateau or blunt it. It's neither good nor bad, simply notice it and again notice the pleasurable feelings and return your awareness to sensations of the stretch, the sounds, increasing your tolerance of the pleasurable or absurd.

As the laughter settles down naturally, continue to focus on the sensations and sounds waiting for the last bits of popcorn to pop. Is it done yet? Perhaps so, or perhaps the next gasp or contraction is the catalyst for another round. When you're done, just rest, sit in silence and notice the effects. Or snatch your friend's water bottle and squeeze out a few more laughs.

Marriage and Family Therapist Christine Marr
Christine Marr, LMFT, NBCCH

Christine Marr is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with an integrative psychotherapy practice in the DC Metro area. She guides people in regaining life balance through mind body methods, alternatives to medication and traditional therapy methods. Christine gets her laugh on by rather 'unathletically' hiking, biking, rollerblading and road tripping with her husband - Ranger Chris, and son, Luke. Some of her favorite smile spots include Beaver Creek CO, Spoleto, Italy and her native Adirondack Park in New York. You can learn more about Christine's practice at www.DCHolisticPsychotherapy.com.

References:

Bennett, MP and Lengacher, C. Humor and Laughter May Influence Health: III. Laughter and Health Outcomes. - Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, March, 2008.

Weill, A & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2001). Meditation for Optimum Health. Sounds True.


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