The Magic of Laughter, or Laughter is the best medicine.
Laughter releases endorphins, giving us the ‘feel good factor’
Acts as aerobic exercise and is like ‘internal jogging’
Unleashes inhibitions, breaks down barriers
Great team building tool encourages better communication
Helps boost our immune system which helps us resist disease
Tones muscles, improves respiration and circulation
Encourages positive thinking and creativity
Relaxes the whole body by reducing stress and tension
What is Laughter?
The serious business of laughter …or … can something this much fun really be this good for you?
Few people would deny that laughter is a good medicine, but not many people realise what a powerful tool for transformation it is. Not only has research on the physical health benefits astounded the medical community, but also we are demonstrating the mental/emotional benefits of laughter in both business innovation and teambuilding. Perhaps even more surprisingly, we are seeing profound healing taking place through laughter.
It seems that laughter releases blocks in the energetic field, freeing us to expand and become more of ourselves. Laughter can also be used to change our experience of all sorts of very real (and “serious”) suffering. Once a person can laugh at their situation, their experience becomes different. They become different. Of course, helping someone to come to the point where they laugh at their pain requires both skill and sensitivity.
One reason why it can be difficult to believe that laughter is so powerful is that there are common misconceptions about laughter.
‘What’s so funny?’
A common misconception is that we laugh because we think something’s funny. Research has estimated that only 1 in 5 laughing occasions involves any humour. Babies laugh, yet don’t have to watch comedy first! In fact, toddlers laugh 300-400 times a day, whereas by the time we’re adults we’ve learned to laugh only around 15 times a day. Some would say we become more discriminating about what we laugh about as we grow up, but maybe we have forgotten how to use a truly natural and very effective healing method.
‘What are you so happy about?’
Another misconception is that laughing is something we only do because we are happy. In fact, it’s the other way around – we become happier by laughing. We laugh for lots of reasons: anger, frustration, fear, nervousness, boredom. and joy of course. In Laughter Clubs and Laughter Meditation or Laughter Yoga, we learn to laugh for no good reason at all – except that it feels good and does our health a huge amount of good.
It’s time to reclaim this natural method of healing. For instance, in the 1950s people laughed 18 minutes a day on average, whereas now the average is 6 minutes per day.
Scientific research into the health benefits of laughter.
The most famous example of laughter helping health comes from the life of Norman Cousins who wrote a book about his experience called ‘Anatomy of an Illness’. Suffering from a degenerative disease of the spine, he checked himself out of hospital where they were filling him with steroids and booked into a hotel room. There he spent time watching funny videos such as the Marx Brothers and Candid Camera (this was in the late 60’s!) and took large doses of Vitamin C. He noticed that following a heavy bout of laughter he could have two pain free hours of sleep, and in time he was able to recover from this potentially fatal disease.
This was because the endorphins (the body’s natural morphine) released during laughter acted as a painkiller and also gave him a euphoric feeling – the natural high. Although at the time we did not know this, Norman was also boosting his immune system. (More about this latest research further on).
Norman Cousins said, “Laughter is an antidote to apprehension and panic. It creates a mood in which the other positive emotions can be put to work too. ” When you laugh you are more likely to see the bright side of a situation and have a more positive outlook, which ultimately promotes healing.”
Researchers at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Centre tested the pain responses of 21 healthy children by measuring their sensitivity to ice-cold water. Children were asked to watch videos before, during and after placing their arm in the water. Margaret Stuber M.D. summed up the findings by saying, “If they laughed beforehand, they said the cold water didn’t feel so bad. If they laughed during the experiment they were able to do it longer”. Stuber also said those children reporting less pain, had lower blood levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) than other children, which may affect their sensitivity to pain.
Although more research is needed, if laughter does increase the body’s pain threshold, then a good prescription is to laugh hard and long. Unlike painkillers, laughter is free and it has no side effects.”
William Fry M.D. a Stanford University Medical School Professor has studied the effects of laughter upon the human body. He finds that laughter gives the heart a workout, supplies the lungs with oxygen, stimulates the brain, actives the immune system and suppresses stress hormones. He says that laughing 100-200 times a day is the cardiovascular equivalent of rowing for ten minutes.
In a journal of the National Cancer Institute a recent report studied ten healthy men watching an hour-long humorous video. An increase in interferon-gamma was noted in them. This is an important healing chemical in the immune system!
Dr Lee Berk & Stanley Tan of the Loma Linda University Medical Centre in California have conducted numerous studies on the effect of laughter on the body. They studied volunteers who watched funny videos and noted favourable physiological changes. They tell us that Laughter is actually the flip side of stress. It lowers cortisol while increasing endorphins. High levels of cortisol suppress the immune system and cause blood pressure to rise. On the other hand, laughter increases your natural killer cells and T-cells that attack viruses and even some cancer cells.
Through analysis of blood samples from the people watching the videos and experiencing mirthful laughter they found that:
Researchers at Indiana State University studied women who laughed out loud to funny films, as compared to those watching a boring tourism video. They found that when samples of Natural Killer immune cells (which attack cancer cells) were mixed with cancer cells, the immune systems of the people who laughed out loud were BOOSTED BY UP TO 40%, compared to those who had watched the tourism film. Dr Mary Bennett who led the research said, “This could be clinically important. The use of humour to stimulate laughter could be an effective complementary therapy to decrease stress and improve natural killer cell activity in persons with viral illness or cancer.”
As we grow up, maybe we have forgotten how to use a truly natural and very effective healing method.
Do we need to be told twice to try to incorporate more fun into our lives if it is so good for us? Watch how children play and laugh. We can learn from them. Try to find a local Laughter Yoga class near you and watch funny uplifting films on TV instead of depressing, violent programmes. A good film to watch is “Patch Adams” starring Robin Williams.
Pam has trained as a laughter yoga practitioner.
Information taken from www.laughternetwork.co.uk.
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