Laughter is the Best Medicine

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There is nothing better than a great belly laugh. How many times have you heard someone say that? Well, there may be some truth in that statement. Research has shown the benefits of laughter range from strengthening the immune system to reducing food cravings, even to increasing a person’s threshold for pain.

More importantly it can also have stress relieving benefits. Health_Laughter_best_medicineLaughter reduces the level of stress hormones in the body. On the flip side, it increases the level of health enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters. Laughter also provides a physical and emotional release. And of course, a good hearty belly laugh gives you an internal workout; it exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs and even works out the shoulders, leaving muscles more relaxed.

So, again, it seems there is nothing better than a great belly laugh.

Albert Nerenberg is a film maker and laughologist and sees the potential in a great belly laugh. “There is some research that shows that regular laughter may lower blood pressure and act as a hedge against heart disease.” There is another aspect of laughter that Nerenberg finds fascinating, it is the idea that you have some choice about the kind go mood that you are in. Laughter can change your mood instantly. Nerenberg says there still more work to be done on the research side of it but he says it could have something to do with laughter helping to metabolize stress hormones. “The idea here is that you can culture good moods and positive outlooks by practicing them. This is new. Because most of us think we get stuck with our mood. It may be that we have options” says Nerenberg.

So laugher is good for us. But there’s a catch. You need to laugh a lot, which is not easy. Laughter by nature is a social behaviour, you need to be around other people who want to laugh. So that can be a serious catch. Nerenberg says that’s why the new laughter club phenomenon is a serious breakthrough. Laughter Clubs are based on a concept by an Indian doctor named Madan Kataria. The idea is to essentially eliminate jokes and humour, so that you get unbridled laughter and then you practice laughter as an exercise. “It sounds strange but it really works. People sometimes laugh for two hours straight. What’s amazing about laugher clubs is that babies can join. I brought my daughter regularly from the age of 6 months and she loved it. There are few things that infants can do at an equal level as adults, but laughing is one of them” says Nerenber. He says there are actually many different ways to get more laughter, including laughter yoga, laughercize, the laughter party for example.

Wendy Woods of Watershed Training Solutions is a laughter yoga instructor and runs a Toronto laughter club. She says the benefits of laughter and laughter yoga help in everyday life, especially for Moms. “It’s another tool that allows us to approach life a little lighter.” Woods believes we know intuitively the benefits of laughter. “We can hardly wait to get together with friends who make us laugh. We know intuitively that laughter is a great thing but it’s taking it from a subconscious level, a reactive level, and bringing it to something proactive, so now it becomes a skill that we use”, says Woods. And that’s where laughter yoga comes into play. It teaches you how to use laughter as a tool. Wood says it is based on the concept of laughing for no reason, you start out faking the laughter and because it’s in a group and laughter is so contagious, real laughter kicks in.

Woods believes laughter is a key to happiness, health and a lighter, less stressful life. It’s about finding that childlike playfulness. Woods says parents should look to their children for inspiration, in more ways than one. Children laugh on average 400 times a day, compare that to an adults average 15 laughs a day.

Nerenberg agrees. He says children are natural laughers. They can bring us back to the natural laughter in us. All babies in every civilization on earth begin laughing at approximately two months. It shows how important and basic laughter is. Until very recently, Nerenberg says. doctors were in the business of downplaying the positive bonding signals that newborns give us. For example, a mother would marvel at seeing her baby smile for the first time and the doctor would declare: “It’s just gas.” In fact, he says when 4D scanning came out, they discovered the fetuses in the womb may begin smiling as early as 12 weeks.

The laughter of mothers itself may be crucial. It turns out that smiling and laughter is key to bonding with your baby.. A recent study at Yale University, showed that the brains of mothers actually grow when they begin bonding with their babies. The primary agent of newborn bonding is smiling and laughter. “So obviously, the answer is you should try laugh and smile as much as you can with your kids. Kids are incredibly disposed towards laughing, something we sometimes forget” says Nerenberg.

In our busy lives, sometimes we can forget the real importance of laughter in our daily lives. There is real value in laughing for our emotional and mental health and children can help parents learn to harness the healing effects of laughing. And there are simple things Moms and Dads can do to laugh a little more everyday. “The first suggestion I would give is just let yourself laugh with your kids. You don’t need a special technique or to join a laughter club. Just laugh. Laugh with your kids. It’s a win-win situation for everyone” says Nerenberg.

We get very removed from that childlike playfulness, that innocence, when we move about in our busy lives. When we are in that mode and we are laughting and in pure joy we are in the present, we are not focues on any other stressors in our life, any worries. Its a great place to be. We feel good, happy, at peace and that can help us shed off those stressful feelings.

Nerenberg believes we are just at the beginning of the laughter movement. Madan Kataria only made his laughter club discovery in 1995. So there is still a long way to go he believes. “I think there is a growing problem with depression in our society for reasons medical science doesn’t explain well.” Nerenberg believes it may be hard to be happy without emotional fitness and he thinks practiced laughter could just be a small part of finding your emotional fitness. There is something to be said for what goes around, comes around. Positive behaviours are contagious. We could very well be entering an age where people are encouraged to laugh long, hard and proud because it produces medical and social benefits.

So ultimately the message is to laugh. Laugh often. Laugh with your full heart. Laugh with your children. Laugh because it makes you feel good, mind, body and spirit.

For more information on Albert Nerenberg and Laughology check out the links, http://www.laughology.info and http://www.laughterparty.net.
For more on laughter yoga or to find a class, check out Wendy Woods’ website at http://www.watershedtraining.ca.

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