During an interview earlier this year, Indian physician Dr Madan Kataria shared with me the observation that acted as the catalyst to his development of what is now the global Laughter Yoga movement:
“I saw there was not much laughter in medicine, but there was much medicine in laughter.”
The health benefits of laughter are many and varied. Laughter Yoga harnesses those benefits through its unique blend of deep cleansing yogic breaths and playful exercises that initiate laughter as a physical act, not an intellectual process.
What are the health benefits of laughter? Here are just a few physiological health benefits:
Laughter boosts the immune system, the body’s natural defence mechanism, by increasing the body’s T cells and immunoglobulins.
Laughter reduces the risk of heart disease. University of Maryland School of Medicine research has shown laughter helps blood vessels flow better and that the positive effect lasts up to 45 minutes after the last laugh. The study’s lead investigator Dr Michael Miller said: “The magnitude of change we saw in the endothelium is similar to the benefit we might see with aerobic activity, but without the aches, pains and muscle tension associated with exercise.”
Laughter can improve sleep. In his memoir, Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins, diagnosed with the painful spine condition ankylosing spondylitis, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better and that 10 minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.
Laughter is a stress-buster. When the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged – and this happens through deep diaphragmatic breathing (laughter included)—the body receives signals to slow down.
Laughter can help control diabetes. Japanese researchers found laughter could lower blood glucose in people with Type 2 diabetes. Head investigator Dr Keiko Hayashi recommended a daily dose.
Laughter is a natural painkiller. A number of scientific studies have concluded that pain thresholds significantly increase when you laugh.
Laughter—specifically in this research case, Laughter Yoga—is a proven therapeutic tool for depression and anxiety as well as providing important social connections.
These are just some of the health benefits of laughter. Do they stack up to scientific scrutiny? The evidence is a resounding ‘Yes’ with the caveat that, while you feel good from the very first laughter yoga session, it’s the discipline of repeated practice that will reap true health benefits.
(c) Heather Joy Campbell, 2016