Kathy Chan, MBA
Laughter is a behavior that we are all familiar with and have personal experience with. So, what is Laughter Therapy? It is the act of consciously practicing laughter. What are the therapeutic effects of Laughter Therapy? It can help to reduce stress, relieve pain, relax the muscles, increase oxygen intake, increase the heart rate, stimulate the circulatory system, make you feel good, plus many other positive effects.
For many years medical professionals have recognized that those patients who maintained a positive mental attitude and shares laughter responded better to treatment. But there were little research or proof on the therapeutic effects of Laughter Therapy until the New England Journal of Medicine published Norman Cousin’s case study in 1979.
Norman Cousin, a writer and editor of the “Saturday Review”, wrote “Anatomy of an Illness” in 1964 to describe how laughter has helped his recovery from ankylosing spondylitis, a very painful collagen illness that attacks the connective tissues of the body. He discovered that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give him at lease two hours of pain-free sleep. Years later he went to work at UCLA Medical School as Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities where he conducted studies with patients on the effect of emotions on the immune system. He later stated that “laughter was important but it really was a metaphor for the full range of positive emotions: love, hope, faith, the will to live, festivity, purpose, [and] determination.”
Laughter in many cases is a behavioral response to humor. This behaviour created predictable physiological and physical changes within the body and psychological changes in the mind and spirit. Physiological changes include a variety of muscle groups becoming more active during laughter, namely the diaphragm, respiratory accessory, facial, and occasionally muscles in the arms, legs and back. Physical changes from laughter involve increased breathing, oxygen use, and heart rate, which stimulate the circulatory system. Psychological changes include relaxation, openness to ideas, feeling good, and a general sense of well-being.
Laughter Therapy is gaining more recognition after some widely publicized studies by Drs. Lee Berk and Stanley Tan at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California. Their research proves that laughter is a boost for the immune system; it raises the body’s level of infection –fighting T-cells, immunoglobulin antibodies and B-cells. It also lower blood pressure and trigger release of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers). It relaxes muscles, promotes the cleansing effect of deep breathing and provides the body with cardiac exercise – the internal jogging. Finally, and most obviously, it induces healthy, positive emotions.
Today, the increasing interest in this field has evolved to a new area of research called psychoneuroimmunology, which explores the connection between the nervous system (the seat of thought, memory and emotions), the endocrine system (which secretes powerful hormones) and the immune system (which defends the body from microbial invasions).
While scientists are still doing research to proof the positive health benefits of humor and laughter we can start practicing laughter therapy in our daily life. There’s no need to wait for more evidence. Deep down we know that laughter and humor are good for our health. As a medicine, it is safe, inexpensive and does not require a doctor’s prescription. So, just get into the habit of laughing by reading a comic; watching a funny movie or show; for no reason at all; etc. Laugh whole-heartedly. Share your laughter with others and spread the healthy, positive emotions that go with it. It is contagious and helps to open up communication with others.
Mark Twain captured the positive effects of laughter succinctly when he wrote – “The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that’s laughter. The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all irritations and resentment slips away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”
Someone once said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between you and me”. It helps to melt away all the tension and conflicts between people. A powerful relationship building and team building tool.
Unquestionably, laughter has tremendous positive physical, emotional, mental and social benefits for all of us. That is the exact reason why Laughter Clubs and Laughing Yoga are so popular today.
The evidence is quite clear when you look at the pictures below and see how you feel about each one of them. Do you prefer those on the left or those on the right?
Have a laugh! You will feel better and then share this positive green energy with everyone!