Laughter increases the feel-good hormones – endorphins which strenghten our immune system and are regarded as powerfull pain-killers. It gives similar benefits as aerobic exercise and is like internal fast walking. The excitement we feel when we laugh is a great way to cope with the effects of stress. And it is good to know that our body can’t really see any differsence between real and fake laughter – so any giggle will do the trick :-).
A laughter therapist’s aim is to help you laugh more easily. Therapy is available in group or individual sessions – these start with a warm-up followed by a range of activities designed to get you giggling. Laughter doesn’t come easily to everyone, but luckily the body can’t actually distinguish between real and fake laughter. So faking it has the same beneficial effect.
Dr Lee Berk of Loma University Medical Centre, California, has been conducting laughter therapy research since the late 1970s. In 1989, Berk studied the effects of laughter in 10 healthy males. Five experimental subjects watched an hour-long comedy while five control subjects didn’t. Blood samples taken from the 10 subjects revealed that cortisol (the hormone our body releases when under stress) in the experimental subjects had decreased more rapidly in comparison to the control group. Berk’s research has also shown that the level of natural killer cells (a type of immune cell that attacks virus and tumour cells) is increased through laughter. These same cells are suppressed if the body suffers consistent long-term stress.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have also calculated that just 20 seconds of laughter could be as good for the lungs as three minutes spent on a rowing machine.
The therapeutic effects of laughter have been clinically studied since the 70s, but Dr Madan Kataria – who developed laughter yoga in Mumbai – is credited with bringing laughter therapy into the mainstream. Kataria set up the first laughter club in 1995. There are now more than 5,000 laughter clubs worldwide.
Laughter therapy is suitable for everyone although most therapists work within the healthcare profession or in the workplace, where laughter is used as a means of relieving stress.
Elderly groups, young people in care and mental health patients are all thought to benefit especially from laughter therapy. If you’re undecided, remember this: children laugh about 400 times a day whereas adults manage a miserable 15.
A laughter therapy session may leave you feeling elated and exhausted in equal measure. Muscle tone and cardiovascular functions may be improved, and oxygen levels in the blood may be boosted.
In the long term, laughter therapy teaches us that we don’t just have to laugh when we are happy. Laughing in the face of anger, stress or anxiety – even if it’s forced laughter – can actually lift your mood. And it’s infectious, so you can expect to see those around you benefiting from a good giggle too.
Laughter therapy, also called humor therapy, is the use of humor to promote overall health and wellness. It aims to use the natural physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stresses or discomfort.
For years, the use of humor has been used in medicine. Surgeons used humor to distract patients from pain as early as the 13th century. Later, in the 20th century, came the scientific study of the effect of humor on physical wellness. Many credit this to Norman Cousins. After years of prolonged pain from a serious illness, Cousins claims to have cured himself with a self-invented regimen of laughter and vitamins. In his 1979 book Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins describes how watching comedic movies helped him recover.
Over the years, researchers have conducted studies to explore the impact of laughter on health. After evaluating participants before and after a humorous event (i.e., a comedy video), studies have revealed that episodes of laughter helped to reduce pain, decrease stress-related hormones and boost the immune system in participants.
Today more than ever before, people are turning to humor for therapy and healing. Medical journals have acknowledged that laughter therapy can help improve quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses. Many hospitals now offer laughter therapy programs as a complementary treatment to illness.
The healing power of laughter
For people living with cancer, it may seem strange to find humor when facing such serious issues. Yet, laughter can be helpful in ways you might not have realized or imagined.
Laughter can help you feel better about yourself and the world around you. Laughter can be a natural diversion. When you laugh, no other thought comes to mind. Laughing can also induce physical changes in the body. After laughing for only a few minutes, you may feel better for hours.
When used in addition to conventional cancer treatments, laughter therapy may help in the overall healing process.
According to some studies, laughter therapy may provide physical benefits, such as helping to:
Boost the immune system and circulatory system
Enhance oxygen intake
Relax muscles throughout the body
Trigger the release of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers)
Ease digestion/soothes stomach aches
Balance blood pressure
Improve mental functions (i.e., alertness, memory, creativity)
Strengthen social bonds and relationships
Dr Fry proved that mirthful laughter provides good physical exercise and can decrease your chances of respiratory infections. He showed that laughter causes our body to produce endorphins (natural painkillers).
Inspired by Norman Cousins, Dr Berk and his team of researchers from the field of psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI) studied the physical impact of mirthful laughter. In one study heart attack patients were divided into two groups: one half was placed under standard medical care while the other half watched humorous videos for thirty minutes each day.
Cousins found, for example, that ten minutes of mirthful laughter gave two hours of pain-free sleep.
According to one experiment after one year the ‘humour’ group had fewer arrhythmias, lower blood pressure, lower levels of stress hormones, and required lower doses of medication. The non-humour group had two and a half times more recurrent heart attacks than the humour group (50% vs. 20%).
Dr Hunter (Patch) Adams immortalized in film by Robin Williams, Patch inspired millions of people by bringing fun and laughter back into the hospital world and putting into practice the idea that “healing should be a loving human interchange, not a business transaction”.
Dr Annette Goodheart is a psychotherapist and inventor of laughter therapy and laughter coaching. For 36 years she has been using laughter to treat cancer, AIDS, depression, and other illnesses and been teaching at universities, schools, companies, organisations and public events, bringing laughter to every part of the world.