I used to be a nanny. It was a fabulous gig; I got to play school, eat tons of microwave popcorn, and reread Junie B. Jones. My clients were two boys, ages five and nine, and they loved a good joke.
Most of their understanding of comedy was what my mother would call “little boy humor.” They asked me if I knew any “dirty jokes,” which really meant if I knew anything where the punchline included a bodily function. It was so easy to make them laugh, and when I did, I was rolling on the floor right along with them.
Those who practice yoga understand the deep connection that is shared between mind and body. We spend hours on the mat tapping into this connection, attempting to clear our thoughts and strengthen our minds. Like yoga, laughter forces us to remain present. A deep belly laugh is an intense sensation, and when we feel it, we can think of nothing else.
In her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés describes the effects of laughter on our bodies, specifically for women. According to Estés, various ancient cultures often told stories of the “Dirty Goddesses,” or women dedicated to the obscene and the sensual. But in this case, Estés notes, obscene is not to be taken in its more modern interpretation (unpopular and offensive), but in its older translation, which means wizard or sorceress. It is part of being wild. Essentially, these women represented the fun and fantastical, the sensual and the deep belly laughs. They enjoyed life.
Estés also states:
In laughter, a woman breathes fully, and when she does, she may begin to feel unsanctioned feelings. And what could these feelings be? Well, they turn out not to be feelings so much as relief and remedies for feelings, often causing the release of stopped-up tears or the reclamation of forgotten memories, or the bursting of chains on the sensual personality.
In other words, laughter is medicine. According to Time Magazine, laughter can even change the way our brain’s neurons communicate with one another. Deep belly laughs seem to “induce ‘gamma’ frequencies–the type of brain waves observed among experienced meditators.” When these gamma frequencies increase, they help improve recall and memory.
The effects of laughter on the body have been traced back to the Greek myths. Baubo, or the goddess of mirth, is of particular importance. Baubo is described as being fun-loving, crude, playful, sexually liberated, wise, and joyful. She is celebrated for her wild energy, her sexuality, and her healing power of laughter.
Take the story of Persephone and Demeter. Many of us are familiar with the mother–daughter themes in this particular myth, but we may not know that ancient versions of the story depict Baubo making an appearance. In the myth, Hades abducts Persephone, dragging her into the underworld and sending Demeter into a violent and tearful frenzy as she searches for her child. Demeter is unsuccessful, and in her despair she neglects her work (that of nurturing the crops), and morphs into a crazed and distressed woman. The trees and flowers die. No one is able to console her. Until Baubo arrives.
Baubo entertains the nearly-lifeless Demeter, shaking her hips and wiggling her breasts in a way that almost suggests sexual intercourse. Then Baubo begins telling a series of jokes, regaling Demeter until she chuckles, then giggles, and finally, gives into deep and throaty belly laughs
The laugher revives Demeter. It enables her to continue her search for Persephone, in which she is successful.*
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we are like Demeter, trapped in depression to the point of inactivity. In these cases, a deep belly laugh can go a long way.
Many of these laughs come when we surround ourselves with a group of female friends. The energy of women, especially women together, is different than that of men. Not to say that masculine energy isn’t great; we need it just as much as we need female energy. But sometimes it can be a real treat to spend some time with your fellow “Dirty Goddesses.” Necessary, even.
If you’ve ever sat around with a bunch of galpals over tea, coffee, or wine, you’ve engaged in a kaffeeklatsch. These informal events came about in the early 20th century, when German women began gathering in small groups at one another’s houses because they weren’t welcome in public coffeehouses. A modern day kaffeeklatsch might be laying in bed with your best friend and sharing a bottle of wine or kettle of tea while talking over episodes of Broad City.
The wild nature within us is one that deserves careful attention. Whether it be laughter (or yoga), finding ways to nurture your inner wild woman can dramatically shift your confidence and strength.
These moments of wildness and laughter venerate us. They dissemble the pesky, albeit too-common, competition among women, and allow us to deepen our connection. Humor is intimate. Dr. Estés continues:
I have always thought the kaffeeklatsch was a remnant of ancient women’s ritual of being together, a ritual, like the old one, of belly talk, women talking from the guts, telling the truth, laughing themselves silly, feeling enlivened, going home again, everything better.
To laugh at a dirty joke is not “unladylike” or “immature.” It is part of our humanity and our femininity. The belly laugh heals and nurtures by bringing life into the stalest parts of our being. It’s a lot like yoga.
Do not be afraid to let out your laughter. Find moments when you and your girlfriends can huddle together, a group of Dirty Goddesses giggling in an untamed chorus. It’s not anything you need strive for; it’s part of who you are.
* Clarissa Pinkola Estés learned and retells this version of Demeter’s tale. As the story is a myth, multiple versions exist.
Amanda Kohr is the editor at Wanderlust. You can find her exploring new highways, drinking diner coffee, and on Instagram.