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Laughter... Real Medicine

On July 1st, 2010

by Val Ge

The power of laughter as real medicine is often undervalued. If you consider the benefits of laughter, it should be everyone’s top priority as a healing tool because of the many positive qualities. Consider this-it doesn’t cost a cent; it can be self-prescribed and self-administered; it can be used any time, almost anywhere; and it has no adverse side effects. More importantly, it makes you feel good about yourself and the people around you.

Here’s a wonderful story that illustrates the healing power of laughter. A minister was in the hospital recuperating from a serious accident. It became a routine that when his pain was too much he rang a buzzer and a nurse would come and give him a shot. On this particular day, he rang for the nurse, rolled on his side with his back to the door, prepared for the shot. On hearing the door open, he pointed to his backside and said, “I’m ready!” After a few moments of uncomfortable silence he looked over his should to see a couple from his church standing there aghast! Totally embarrassed they had a brief conversation and left. The minister, realizing what he had done, began laughing and he could not stop. He laughed until tears ran down his face. When the nurse arrived to administer the pain medication, he laughed even harder trying to explain what happened. Finally, after he told the nurse the whole story he realized his pain was gone. He didn’t need pain medication for another two hours.

What does laughter do to your body? It triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and produces a general sense of well-being, which is what happened to our minister in the hospital.

Laughter can have a placebo affect; your body doesn’t know the difference between simulated laughter and real laughter. As long as you are laughing, you are producing the same “happy” body chemistry and powerfully boosting your immune system whether your laughter is genuine or forced. Studies on the effects of laughter show that it lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, raises levels of infection-fighting T-cells and produces disease-destroying antibodies. Author of Love, Medicine and Miracles, Bernie Siegel, M.D, said it best, “The simple truth is that happy people generally don’t get sick. Laughter can always remove fear and anxiety, no matter what the situation. You cannot suffer when you are laughing. The two just can’t be experienced together. It has to be one or the other, and joy always overcomes fear. Love creates, but laughter is the cement that holds our lives together.”

How does a person laugh when there seems to be nothing to laugh about or no one is around to make a joke or share a funny thought? Thankfully, there are many laughter exercises created to help stimulate laughter. Many of them have been devised by the proliferation of ‘Laughter Clubs’ springing up all over the globe. The first Laughter Yoga Club was started in 1995 in Mumbai, India. It began with just five people in a local public park, but the concept rapidly spread worldwide and as of 2009 there are more than 6,000 laughter clubs in 60 countries. The conscious practice of laughter created by these clubs is being used in companies and corporations, on cruise ships, in fitness centers, yoga studios, senior centers, schools, colleges, prisons, universities, self-help cancer groups and for the physically and mentally challenged. “Most of our happiness depends on our disposition not on circumstances” – Martha Washington.

English comedian John Cleese went to India to do research on this phenomenon as part of a BBC documentary about the human face. He visited a prison in Mumbai where he witnessed prisoners going through a range of laughter exercises. Prison officials found that laughter diminished the prisoner’s feelings of anger and depression. Cleese said, “Laughter connects people, no matter what the language. Laughter created positive changes in prisoner attitude, better prisoner-staff relations and reduced violence.”

If you want to have a good laugh you can always join a Laughter Club, or try some of these favorite laughter exercises on your own.

  • Laughter cream: Rub your hands together rapidly for a few seconds until you start feeling some heat. You are preparing some powerful and healing laughter cream. When ready, apply the cream all over you and laugh as you do so!
  • Find your laughter center: Probe your head with one finger as if looking for your laughter center. Imagine that each spot you push on triggers a different laughter sound.
  • Motorboat (or lawnmower) laughter: Start an old gas engine lawnmower. Put one foot on the machine to hold it still, grab the pull cord and crank it in 4 powerful laughs. Move around and keep laughing once your engine is started. Ready? Go! HA! – HA HA! – HA HA HA! – Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…

Doing any of these exercises will change your breathing pattern, which affects your state of mind. The breathing patterns of people under stress become faster, shallow and irregular. Stressed people often hold their breath, which triggers the build up of carbon dioxide in the blood and creates a toxic environment in the body. Laughter shifts the breathing pattern from shallow to deep diaphragmatic breathing; it brings oxygen-rich air to the lungs and prevents the stress arousal system from being triggered. Focusing awareness on your breath will keep you in the present moment, as both breathing and laugher are activities that can only be performed in the present, it’s impossible to breathe in the past or future.

One of the best ways to find laughter is to want to find it. Look for the funny side of situations, because there always is one. Don’t take yourself too seriously and let go of having to be right in every encounter. I know a couple that regularly fight over how they load the dishwasher and how they shop for groceries; he buys generic brands, she loves brand names. It’s a power struggle. Imagine if either one of these powerful individuals decided to have a goal of making the other one laugh? Their entire relationship would change. When my husband and I go grocery shopping, we toss things at each other; an apple, an orange, a roll of paper towels; people look at us as if we’re crazy, but they also smile.

Laughter is an on-going pursuit. A while ago my husband, Jeff, and I realized that we were bickering. We wanted to have a simple reminder to wake up and stop arguing. We decided that if one of us put our forefinger and thumb together, made a circle, and put it up to our eye, the other person had to do the same. And even though sometimes the ego just doesn’t want to let go of the argument, we both did it. What we found was remarkable; it’s impossible not to laugh when you’re looking at another human begin through a circle of fingers!

However you decide to bring laughter into your life, make a commitment to do it for your health and well-being. You’ll soon realize that the more you laugh, the more you’ll find things to laugh about.

Laughter is real medicine that makes your life fun and creates positive energy. What can it hurt? Nothing. What can it help? Just about everything. Try it. You’ll like it!

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