A new practice has erupted regarding the way we do yoga. Only it’s not quite so new now. It’s been around for a while. It’s called Laughter Yoga. At first it may appear strange – all that clapping, chanting ‘ha ha’ and staring at each other until you are all laughing uncontrollably. You may feel a bit silly at first but it’s a lot of fun.
It was developed in 1995 by Madan Kataria, M.D., an Indian doctor and is based on the principle that the body can’t tell the difference between fake and real laughter. In combination with yogic breathing it brings more oxygen into the body making you feel more energetic.
Humour is used to treat chronic pain associated with many illnesses such as anxiety, stress, cancer, arthritis and depression. It is called laughter therapy and therapists prescribe anything that gets you giggling into a hearty laugh as good medicine. Many workshops can be found all over Sydney and some government offices and corporations are introducing it as a lunchtime activities option for their staff.
Laughter has been recognised for its healing abilities since the 14th century when the French surgeon Henri de Mondeville suggested doctors should look after patient’s emotional well-being in terms of their joy and happiness. Years later this was revived by Norman Cousins, the editor of the Saturday Review as a remedy for his own painful illness. He found that large doses of Vitamin C and watching funny movies gave him two hours free of pain from his crippling arthritic spondylitis and eventually led to his recovery.
Cousins discovered that laughter relieves pain, reduces depression, aids in inducing relaxation, boosts the immune system, improves blood circulation, lower blood pressure and glucose levels and evens out breathing. Although there may not quite be enough scientific explanation for this yet to convince the sceptic it is believed that the therapeutic effect of laughter is partly because it is so contagious.
In 2006 however a study was done with people watching comedy and drama to connect how people respond to both laughter and stress. The blood flow was measured in the brachial arteries in the upper arm before and after the movies and it was found that most of the people watching comedy had increased blood flow relaxing the arteries which may ease the strain on the heart. However the people who watched the drama, three quarters of them had reduced blood flow in their arteries by 47% which compares to a fit of anger which could raise blood pressure, constrict arteries and stress the heart. The conclusion was that there is some physiological benefit from laughter.
Other researchers in California also working on how laughter boosts the immune response, its affects on biology, lowering of stress hormones, increase of endorphins and energy have found positive results. Beta-endorphins which are nature’s pain relievers and anti-depressants increase just on anticipation of watching a humorous video. Human growth hormone, which boosts immunity, also rises. In a follow up study they looked at the impact on stress hormones and found that high levels of stress hormones can have a detrimental impact on the immune and cardiovascular systems. It was also found that stress hormones were lowered when people anticipated the funny video—and epinephrine dropped by 70%.
Given all the above, whether there is enough scientific proof or not, it’s always good to have a laugh and some fun. When was the last time you did that in your busy day? Maybe its time to get out there and try something new.