Is there anything more enjoyable than laughing with friends and family? Laughing makes us feel good, and now science has proven that it's also good for our physical and emotional health.
Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai, India, researched the data behind laughter's health benefits in the early 1990s. He found scientific evidence that laughter had profound physiological and psychological benefits. As he looked at the world around him, however, he realized that adults weren't experiencing these benefits very often, as most didn't laugh more than a few times a day.
How could he promote health through laughter among people around the world? Dr. Kataria decided to start a new movement: Laughter Yoga.
Laughing Has Real Health Benefits
Dr. Lee Berk and colleagues from the Schools of Medicine and Public Health at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, found that "mirthful laughter," and even the anticipation of it, increased the levels of Natural Killer (NK) cell activity and growth hormone (GH), both of which help optimize immunity and prevent chronic and viral illnesses. Researchers also found that some of the physiological benefits from watching a humorous video were present after 12 hours. Other researchers confirmed that laughter and the anticipation of it reduce levels of stress hormones.
Laughter has also been found to help control blood pressure and reduce the frequency of colds and infections. Dr. Kataria, convinced of the potential health benefits of laughter, launched the first 'laughter club' by asking a group of people in a public park if they wanted to laugh with him. The idea was a huge success, until the jokes ran out. Seeking another alternative, the doctor realized that laughing generates health benefits, whether it's real laughter--spawned by humor, jokes or comedy--or "simulated" laughter, engaged in as a yoga-like exercise. Either way, the body couldn't tell the difference.
What is Laughter Yoga?
Author of Laugh for No Reason, Dr. Kataria created Laughter Yoga in 1995. A yoga practitioner himself, he describes it as a unique exercise routine that combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (Pranayama). Each session starts with warm-up techniques such as stretching and clapping, to help loosen up the body and create a sense of group playfulness. Then yogic breathing exercises are used to open up the lungs, followed by Ho, Ho, Ha, Ha warm-up, engaging the core laughing muscles and paving the way for laughter.
Next, the leader of the group guides everyone in a series of 'laughter exercises' that combine role-playing and visualization, which are interspersed with more breathing exercises. Rather than relying on jokes or comedies, the laughing starts as a physical process where the members laugh for no reason. During these exercises, which are combined with group eye contact, fake laughter typically becomes real as the dynamics of the group take over, leading to genuine and contagious laughter. After about twenty minutes, the session may finish with 'laughter meditation,' where group members lie down and allow the laughter to naturally continue or fade.
Dr. Kataria started with just a handful of people in a park. Today, there are over 6,000 Laughter Yoga clubs in over 60 countries.
Laughter Yoga Explodes
Featured in major publications such as TIME Magazine and National Geographic, as well as on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, and ABC News, Laughter Yoga has even caught on in colleges across the nation, where teachers and students use it to improve communication, mood, and attendance. Many hospitals, prisons, aging care facilities, and organizations supporting the physically and mentally challenged also use Laughter Yoga for its health benefits.
Laughter Yoga for You
If you want to try Laughter Yoga, check online for a laughter club near you at The American School of Laughter Yoga (www.laughteryogaamerica.com). If you can't find an accessible group and are interested in starting one, the same site has information on becoming a Laughter Yoga leader.
If you're on your own and just want to experience a little laughter for its benefits, Dr. Kataria recommends you lift your arms up, stretch them backwards, take a long deep breath, hold if for a while until you feel like releasing, and then simply laugh. You can also "fake it until you make it," the doctor said in an online chat, by simply saying "ha ha ha ha." Try it! In a few minutes you may be really laughing. Either way, your body will likely feel better afterwards.