Just in time for World Laughter Day, the first Sunday of May, an article in the Berkeley Wellness newsletter made me think about how much we need laughter in our lives. Faced with “normal” daily stresses along with a non-stop news feed, it sometimes seems like laughter is impossible.
But one of the interesting points of this article, Is Laughter the Best Medicine?, is drawn from the results of a pilot study from Georgia State University: “the body cannot distinguish between genuine and self-initiated laughter.”
That recent research finding reaffirms the principles of Laughter Yoga (Hasyayoga): people who laugh are healthier and feel better. With breath at the center of most yoga practices, it’s little wonder that there’s a connection with laughter, which is all about breath. Founded in India in 1995, Laughter Yoga has spawned thousands of laughter clubs worldwide. A few warm-up breaths and arm-swings and perfectly serious people say “Ho ho, ha ha” to each other until the contagion catches and everyone is laughing. Patch Adams, MD, applied similar principles to the Gesundheit! Institute, in which clowning and laughter therapy are part of the daily health regimen.
The Berkeley article, which credits Norman Cousins as an early proponent of the benefits of laughter in his book Anatomy of an Illness, quotes results from various studies, including the Georgia State project, which concluded: “After six weeks, participants in the exercise-plus-laughter workouts had improvements in mental health, aerobic endurance, and self-confidence.”
Additionally, as noted by William B. Strean, PhD, in an article in Canadian Family Physician, unlike prescription medications, “virtually all studies of laughter and health indicate positive results. Similarly, there are almost no negative side effects or undesirable ramifications associated with laughter as an intervention.”
What’s so funny? Actually, even if nothing is funny, we can trick our bodies into the pleasures and benefits of laughter just by smiling and saying, “Ha!”