…the forgotten health contributor.
No-one is devoid of laughter. Every human on this planet laughs. Babies laugh before they can speak. Laughter transcends cultures, and even species. Our nearest relatives, the great Apes, share this trait with us. Laughter is communication; it signals others about our state of mind, our mood, and socially bonds us to each other.
Laughter is also a simple and natural healing tool. And this has been known for a very long time.
Laughter is a bodily exercise, precious to health.Aristotle, Greek philosopher of the 4th Century BC
Laughter, and its biological effects, became of scientific interest not until the late 1960s. Dr William F. Fry MD, a university professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences, was the pioneering researcher in what he called “Gelotology” aka the science of laughter – from the Greek word “γελος” or gelos meaning to laugh. He demonstrated that laughter (associated with humour) provided a good physical exercise and stimulated processes in the body’s major physiological systems. Other scientists have followed his path since and published various landmark studies on the subject.
Anyone remember the 1998 film “Patch Adams”? It stars the late Robin Williams playing a hospital doctor in the 1970s who incorporates play, humour, and laughter to treat his patients. The story is based on real-life doctor Hunter (Patch) Adams MD, father of therapeutic clowning. The presence of clowns in hospital settings has been shown to help promote psychological well-being of patients with acute and chronic conditions. Nowadays, many trained hospital clowns operate worldwide (including in the UK).
So, what does laughter do to your body and mind?
When you laugh, your mood is instantly lifted. Why? Well, thanks to the “feel good” hormones, endorphins among others, that are released through this process. They give you feelings of positivity. Endorphins are not only happiness boosters but also your body’s natural painkillers so laughter can help you ease pain.
Feeling stressed? Laughter can be the remedy as it lowers the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the blood.
Want to work out but don’t want to go to the gym? No problem! Writer Norman Cousins, who used laughter therapy as part of his recovery from illness, said “Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors”. Laughter is a great cardio workout. It gets your heart pumping and burns calories. Plus, as you laugh from your belly, you are expanding and contracting the muscles of your abdomen so it can help tone your abs.
Having low energy, feeling weak? Laughter to the rescue! Like all living organisms, we need energy to carry out the processes of life; we need oxygen to function. Laughing brings an increased amount of oxygen into your body and therefore optimises the functioning of its cells, making you feel more energetic and productive in your daily activities.
Another great benefit of laughter is that it increases your immune response by boosting production of antibodies, the cells responsible for fighting infections and disease in your body. And if your immune system is strong, you are less likely to fall sick easily.
Finally, the more you laugh, the more you find yourself able to laugh in difficult times. It has been proven to be true in my personal life. Laughter can help you cope better in the face of challenges and maintain an optimistic mindset whatever the circumstances.
So, as you can see, laughter improves our overall well-being! And yet paradoxically it is not often taken seriously enough to be part of our top priorities for the day.
10 to 15 minutes of deep and sustained laughter is sufficient to trigger the above physiological and psychological changes in your body.
Participating in a laughter wellness activity such as Laughter Yoga which is a mix of laughter exercises and yoga breathing, is the best way to practice this. During a laughter wellness session, you get to experience interactive and therapeutic laughter, and its full benefits. You leave with boosted self-confidence, feelings of relaxation and joy, and ready to live fully in the moment. It doesn’t matter (and it is normal) if your laughter is not genuine at first because the body will respond the same way whether it is voluntary or not!
So what are you waiting for? Get giggly for a healthier you! Haha!