Laughter is the best medicine. We have all heard it, but is it true? And if so, why? This subject caught my interest when I saw a laughter yoga class on the news. I have to admit it made me laugh as people were sitting in a circle just laughing. Maybe laughing is contagious. What may have been started as forced laughter appeared to be real laughter. I was intrigued with the idea of scheduling laughter into my day, which also made me at least smile. It made me wonder, do we laugh because we are happy or are we happy because we laugh?

As I “goggled” laughter, I found that there are 5000 laughter clubs and studies in more than 50 countries. Dr. Madan Kataria from India started Laughter Yoga after writing a paper for a medical journal on ‘Laughter is the best medicine’. He couldn’t just prescribe 20 minutes of laughter a day so he created a venue for laughing and made sure to include the many different types of laughing. And he states that forced laughing almost always brings about real laughing.

And that is the point. Our bodies apparently don’t know if our laughter is real or fake, so therefore it responds as if it is real. And laughter apparently really is good medicine. We know there is nothing quite like a good aerobic belly laugh. It makes us feel good, puts us in a better mood, and can change our perspective of the world. This could be from the natural endorphins released in our system after a good laugh.

Laughter Yoga combines laughter exercises and yoga breathing to give the benefits of laughter. These benefits can include stress reduction, decreased blood pressure, less depression, a boost to the immune system, and a way of oxygenating the lungs and body. When we laugh there is a chemical change in our bodies that helps to ease pain and release stress.

Stress – we hear about it, talk about it, but do we really take care of balancing our lives so that we can handle the stress in our lives? Stress decreases our immune system’s ability to ward off disease. Our immune system is directly connected to our brain, which means that our emotions will affect our immune system. Studies have found that the negative hormones (hormones that harm or deplete the immune system) were lower in participants who laughed and the natural killer cells that help fight diseases were increased.

So if you can’t remove the stress from your life, you do have some options for draining off some stress. Laughter is certainly one option. And it is like exercise. There are two stages of laughter: the arousal phase when the heart rate increases, and the resolution phase when the heart rests. A laughing person’s heart rate can reach up to 120 beats per minute while laughing. And when we laugh, just like in exercise, endorphins are released in our brain, giving us one more positive side effect.

Children laugh an average of 400 times per day while adults laugh 15 times per day. So maybe we do need a class to make sure we don’t forget to do it. Smiling is also a mood enhancer. Professor Charles Schaefer from Fairleigh Dickinson University did several studies measuring mood by directing participants to smile broadly for 60 seconds, laugh heartily for 60 seconds and howl for 60 seconds. Laughing and smiling both helped boost spirits but howling did not. Yes, he also studied whether howling would positively affect the body and if that makes your imagination go somewhere, image this professor howling for his students to show them how to do what he was wanting them to do. He found that the 60 seconds of forced laughing was the best medicine.

So are you interested? One way to set up laughing time is to call a friend on the phone. Here is how you do it if you had a class: greet each other and laugh at the same time; do an “echo” laugh – each of you laughing in turn while the other “echoes” the same laughter sound as quickly as you can; chant “ho ho ha ha ha” together, stand, look up, and laugh at the ceiling, which allows your chest to open, making it easier to laugh; try silent laughter, laughing with your eyes and mouth open or closed and without making sounds. And if all else fails, watch yourself doing this in the mirror; you will laugh at/with yourself.

Laughter and Health: Stress Relief Techniques and Healing Power of Humor;

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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