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Laugh Your Way to Better Health

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We've all heard the bromide, "Laughter is the best medicine," but are we getting a regular dose? Besides our positive emotions and the discharge of endorphins, natural pain-killers released by the body when we laugh, there are many physical benefits to be gained by a laughter.

We've all heard the bromide, "Laughter is the best medicine," but are we getting a regular dose? As one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to improve our health, letting our "ha-ha's" out can benefit our mind, body, and spirit.

When Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician in India, became interested in laughter's health benefits he went to his local park and asked people to laugh with him. Though he only managed to convince four others to join him at this first laughter session, the idea soon took hold, eventually attracting hundreds of people.

A Laughter Movement

As founders of the International Laughter Movement, Dr. Kataria and his wife, Madhuri, have developed a successful Laughter Club program. Incorporating yoga stretches, rhythmic breathing, meditation, and a healthy dose of playfulness, their program promotes laughter as a genuine form of exercise as well as a preventive health measure.

Initially, jokes were used to make people laugh, but Dr. Kataria recognized that jokes were sometimes offensive and not everyone found them funny, so he began to think of other ways to initiate laughter. Simulated or fake laughter became the solution. Practised in a group, it's effective since inhibition and shyness are more easily overcome. "The larger the group, the easier it is to laugh," says Dr. Kataria.

A Laughter Session

A typical laughter session begins with rhythmic hand-clapping along with energetic chants of "ho-ho, ha-ha-ha" with arms raised in the air. The group is led through a variety of laughter types that help promote playfulness among the members. Using laughing techniques with names such as Milkshake laughter, Lion laughter, and Shake-hands laughter, members are actively engaged participants.

The program encourages eye contact with others in the group and along with the extremely contagious sound of people laughing, fake laughter easily changes into genuine giggles and guffaws. Often it is the absurdity of laughing over nothing at all that people find the funniest.

A Laughter Study

A recent study by the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore (UMMC), presented at the Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology in March 2005, shows laughter is linked to the healthy function of blood vessels. A press release from the UMMC states, "Laughter appears to cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels, the endothelium, to dilate or expand in order to increase blood flow."

Dr. Kataria travels extensively to present workshops on laughter therapy and train others to become Laughter Club leaders. Currently, there are more than 2,500 clubs around the world. To find a group in your area or to start one of your own, visit www.laughteryoga.org.

Besides our positive emotions and the discharge of endorphins, natural pain-killers released by the body when we laugh, there are many physical benefits to be gained by a good bout of chortling and chuckling.

  • Strengthened stomach and facial muscles
  • Improved lung capacity
  • Increased production of antibodies that help strengthen the immune system.
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