By Debbie Friend MSc
We've all heard that laughter is the best medicine. It is easy to comply with this Rx when we are enjoying a good comedy or reacting to a funny joke, but it can be nearly impossible to follow this recommendation when we're just not feeling up to it. Or is it?
Laughter Yoga is challenging this notion. Laughter Yoga is a body-mind practice that combines simulated laughter exercises with gentle breathing techniques to teach the body how to laugh without relying on jokes or humor. You don't have to be happy, in a good mood or even have a sense of humor to participate and enjoy the many mental, physical and emotional benefits of Laughter Yoga. When you engage in a session you simply fake it 'till you make it and in time the motion will lead to emotion.
Laughter is visually contagious. When we see other people laughing, it's natural for us to follow suit, even if we don't find anything particularly funny. For some implausible reason, genuine chuckles, snorts and mirthful peals of laughter just well up inside and we find difficult to avoid joining in.
Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of the Laughter Yoga Movement developed Laughter Yoga in 1995. A medical doctor looking for ways to alleviate the stress of living in Mumbai, India, Dr. Kataria is known as the "Guru of Giggling."
Proven successful locally, this unique exercise style has gained a diverse following and international acclaim and is now practiced in more than 60 countries around the globe.
There are over 6,000 laughter clubs worldwide. The laughter yoga practice is offered at senior citizen and cancer treatment centers, prisons, corporations, schools, the military, police departments, hospitals and facilities for the mentally and physically disabled.
So what is the draw? Certainly it's loads of fun, but there are also many benefits from frequent and sustained bouts of laughter, even when the chortles are forced and not produced naturally.
While the human mind easily makes the distinction between simulated and spontaneous laughter, the human body cannot. Laughter has shown both physiological and psychological benefits. It has been shown to enhance the intake of oxygen, stimulate the heart, lungs and muscles and increase the endorphins released by the brain.
Laughter also activates the stress response, soothes tension, improves the immune system and relieves pain.
Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, a preventive care specialist and psychoneuroimmunologist, of Loma Linda University and Stanley Tan, MD, PhD endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Oak Crest Health Research Institute, Loma Linda, CA studied the effects of mirthful laughter on individuals with diabetes.
Heart disease is often implicated in metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. These researchers found that mirthful laughter, as a preventive adjunct therapy in diabetes care, actually raised good cholesterol and lowered inflammation.
The researchers also found that many older practitioners of laughter yoga claimed that the facial exercises of laughter reduced wrinkles and sagging by firming and toning facial muscles, making them look (and if anything else feel) younger.
Overall exercise is known to slow down the aging process and laughter yoga is a great exercise for all age groups. It's easy and it's fun!
Laughter makes it easier to cope with life and the challenges, frustrations, annoyances and disappointments we all face.
People who laugh don't worry as much as people who don't laugh and often enjoy life more. Laughter builds self-confidence and puts us in control of our own emotions. Now that is definitely something to be happy about! Laughter Yoga Class Video Potential health benefits of simulated laughter: a narrative review of the literature and recommendations for future research. Complement Ther Med. 2011 Jun ;19(3):170-7. Epub 2011 May 25  The Benefits Of "Mirthful Laughter, Coupled With Standard Diabetic Treatment. Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 17 Apr. 2009. epub 2012 Oct. 15
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