x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Avoiding the grumpy

In an exclusive interview with The National, the comic legend and now Laughter Yoga instructor Nabil Sawalha shares his tips on maintaining a healthy state of mind.

Nabil Sawalha, the Jordanian comic veteran, says you should smile when people insult you and say 'you are totally right'. Mona Al-Marzooqi / The National
Nabil Sawalha, the Jordanian comic veteran, says you should smile when people insult you and say 'you are totally right'. Mona Al-Marzooqi / The National

The Jordanian comic legend Nabil Sawalha has made a big career out of tickling the funny bone. For more than two decades, the 73-year-old has been lampooning Arab politics through his plays, one-man shows and stand-up tours, and recently began to explore the benefits of laughter.

This led him to the health movement that is Laughter Yoga. After studying under the movement’s Indian founder Madan Kataria (also known as the Guru of Giggling), Sawalha has been giving lectures on using laughter to kick-start a healthy lifestyle.

We caught up with him at a private event in Abu Dhabi this week.

Take a deep breath

There is magic in a single breath. If you get into a heated argument with someone, the best thing to do is say “excuse, me”, take a step back and breathe in slowly. You will be amazed at how most of your stress and tension is diffused. Another reason why this works is because when you are stressed, you are not breathing well and oxygen is not reaching your brain. This explains why arguments happen – it’s because “two brains are not working”. It literally is a stupid activity.

Undermine their aggression

If somebody insults you, smile back and say “you are totally right”. Pull the rug out from under their feet because what they are really trying to do is bring you down to a lower level and that’s not what you should be about. I remember my son got into a fight once and when I asked him why, he said because someone called him a donkey. I asked him: what’s wrong with being a donkey? I told him that donkeys are better than us because they don’t have to pay income tax.

Using your smile

Your smile is the only true weapon – and it is the only thing that can bring others closer to you. If you insist on telling someone they are stupid, do it with a smile – it’s quite possible they’ll end up apologising instead of hitting you. So don’t be afraid to use it.

Practise laughing

This is important advice: don’t mix with anyone who does not have a sense of humour. Mix with people who laugh and avoid the grumpy. Ten minutes of laughter is like a treadmill. I even suggest standing in front of the mirror and laughing. It feels odd at first, but before you know it, you will be laughing very well. I do this every day and I laugh at anything, from wondering what I am doing at this moment to the way my face looks. I find this very healthy and an illness killer. Laughter and good breathing strengthens your immunity and are antidotes to many physical and mental ailments.

Find the beauty in things

This is something that I try to do every day. When I am stressed out in a traffic jam I try to look at the trees beyond and wonder at the beauty that God has given us. When I am staring at the floor, I try to concentrate on the patterns of the dust. There is a saying: the mind can order the body but the body can change the mind. We are living in an age where depression is prevalent and it can really bring us down. Finding the beauty in things – when helped with lots of laughter, smiling and healthy breathing – is a great way to bring us back up again.

sasaeed@thenational.ae