How Laughter Can Heal the Body!
By Brian James Rose
You might have heard that smile is contagious or an old saying that laughter is the best medicine. These sayings are facts because life offers stressful and tragic situations, but laughter can help you get through these tough life situations. You can see comedians have the power to spread laughter among their audiences even when life is not good or according to your expectations. It is proven that laughter releases endorphins that are the body’s natural feel-good chemicals and improves immunity. Laughter is a natural medicine used as humor therapy for the benefits of the mind and body. It has been in use to treat many chronic conditions and psychiatric illnesses. The studies have now also proved the benefits of laughter in healing the body.
What is Humor Therapy?
Humor therapy, also known as therapeutic humor, utilizes smiles and laughter to aid healing, relieve stress, alleviate pain, and improve a person’s sense of well-being. Humor therapy allows you to find ways that make you smile or laugh more. It is effective; as you can see in many hospitals, clowns cheer up the sick children in the children’s ward. Humor allows a person to control his present situation and make it manageable by releasing stress, anger, or fear. It is thought that laughter changes brain chemistry because it enhances the body’s ability to heal or, in other words, improves immunity. Many research studies tell the relationship between mind and body in connection with the ability to heal (psychoneuroimmunology). The therapy may include laughter exercises, comedy movies, comedy books, or clowns. Laughter yoga is a revolutionary technique that utilizes traditional breathing exercises combined with laughter to oxygenate the brain and body. The exercises can make anyone laugh without being in a mood to laugh and makes you laugh until it becomes real and contagious.
History of Laughter Therapy
The significance of healing properties of laughter has been known since biblical times. As you might have read, an old proverb “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” However, modern-day laughter therapy was first discussed in the book “Anatomy of an Illness (as perceived by the patient),” written by journalist Norman Cousins in 1979. Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis with a lower recovery chance. He had severe and debilitating pain that restricted his movement. But he did not lose his sense of humor, and he wrote that he could have two hours of pain-free sleep with ten minutes of laughter. Cousins credited his recovery to a prescription of Marx Brothers movies, episodes of Candid Camera, and funny stories read to him by nurses.
During the 14th century Henri de Mondeville, a French Surgeon used humor to distract patients from feeling pain during the surgery and to aid in recovery. Later in the 16th century, English scholar and parson Robert Burton utilizes the same practice of using humor to treat psychiatric disorders. It was also discussed in his book named, Anatomy of Melancholy.
Research Studies to Prove Healing effects of Laughter
After the Norman Cousins book about the healing benefits of laughter, numerous studies have also proven the healing effects of laughter. For example,
- A study conducted at UCLA watching funny shows or comedy movies increased the child’s tolerance for pain.
- A research carried out at the University of Maryland found that people who watched humorous films had increased blood flow compared to the people who watched depressing movies.
- In another study, psychologists measured the intensity and frequency of 41 individuals’ laughter for two weeks and its relationship with physical and mental stress. Lower stress is reported with more laughter. However, the intensity did not produce a significant response.
- In 2016 a study conducted on 40 patients with Parkinson’s Disease concluded that watching comedy shows improves communication, focus, promotes feelings of acceptance and compassion, and reduces stress in the patients.
- Another study from Israel showed the improvement in schizophrenic patients’ mental status, psychopathology, and mood in response to humorous videos.
- A randomized controlled trial was done in Japan that involved 27 individuals over 60 years of age. They spent 120 minutes in group laughter with exercise sessions over three months. After three months, it is seen that the individuals have increased bone mineral density, self-rated health, and a decrease in HbA1c levels.
Types of Laughter
There are two types of laughter:
- Self-induced laughter: when you try to make yourself laugh, and you are in control of your laughter. In this type, a smile or a laughing sound is forced first.
- Spontaneous laughter: it is a type when you find something funny, and you spontaneously react by smiling or laughing out loud. This type of laughter is hard to control, for example, laughing at a funny video or joke.
Both types of laughter have a role in healing and have physical and mental health benefits.
Scientifically Proven Benefits of Laughter that Aids in Healing
Laughter is the natural medicine that is best to combat stress, enhance immunity, and improve mood. Following are some of the scientifically proven benefits of laughter that aids in healing the body, improves physical and mental health, and helps you lead a good life.
The research has proven that stress or depression suppresses the immune system. Laughter enhances immunity by increasing the number of natural killer cells that are suppressed in stressful situations. Cortisol and norepinephrine are the stress hormones that are decreased after an episode of laughter. Researchers from the Loma Linda School of Medicine have studied students who watched comedy movies have increased the number of circulating T cells and decreased cortisol levels. Studies have also shown that allergic patients have fewer allergic reactions after watching humorous movies. A study conducted in Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, showed that in widowers, natural killer cells go down due to stress and depressed condition.
Humor helps to live longer. A study was carried out on Norwegian men and women that were followed for seven years. They were asked a question about how much humor is important to them in daily life. The study concluded that there are more chances of survival till 70 years in participants whose lives have greater roles of humor. Participants who scored in the top quarter for humor appreciation were 35 percent more likely to be alive as compared to those in the bottom quarter.
Natural Pain Killer
Laughter is a natural pain killer as it is known to release endorphins that are the body’s internal good feeling hormones and pain reliever. The endorphins will reduce stress in the body, alleviates pain, reduces anxiety, and improves mood.
Strengthens Social Bonds
As already said, laughter is contagious, and if you are spreading or sharing a burst of laughter with your friends or family, it will strengthen your relationship and form a long-lasting bond. It is also reported that couples who laugh together have higher quality and long-lasting relationships.
Reduces the Risk of Getting a disease
Laughter protects your body from many illnesses. In a study from Harvard, there is less risk of developing chronic illness in individuals who laugh more and take a positive approach towards life. However, negative or negative thinking has a higher risk of developing chronic diseases such as hypertension or diabetes.
Laughter acts as an antidepressant as it stimulates the release of a neurotransmitter, serotonin, that has an antidepressant effect. Most SSRIs (antidepressant drugs) also act to increase levels of serotonin in the body. A study from Oxford University in 2011 involved a series of experiments conducted on participants that watched comedy shows or movies reported to have alleviation in pain and improvement in emotional or physical discomfort.
Improves Cardiac Health
It is proven through many research studies that laughter improves cardiac health. It works as an aerobic workout, thereby increasing circulation, increasing heart rate, and improves oxygenation. Laughter also reduces inflammatory mediators, thus having an anti-inflammatory effect on heart muscles and vessels, protecting them from damage. Laughter also lowers blood pressure, as you might notice that your blood pressure rises in anger after getting calm or by hearing a joke; blood pressure normalizes. Studies from the University of Maryland School of Medicine showed that laughter reduces the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Heals the Brain
Laughter heals the brain by stimulating the release of mood-enhancing neurochemicals. Patients with chronic illnesses might get overwhelmed due to which anxiety, stress, and worry make the illness worse. It is often the mental state that sometimes drags down a patient, and they get depressed. Laughter can improve the mental state, enhance mood, bring positivity towards life, and patients feel alive even with a chronic illness by including humor in their routine.
How to Incorporate Laughter in Your Life?
There are many ways to add humor to your life. For example
- Find simple things that can make you smile or laugh, like a comic strip, photos, postcards, comedy magazines, comic books, or funny movies. Keep such things on hand whenever you need a humor boost; you can use them. Or you can look at jokes, funny videos, and such laughter-inducing things online.
- Practice laughing even if it feels forced at first. Try to find out ways to induce laughter by finding something to laugh at in your surroundings. You can try laughter yoga, in which people laugh as a group first by force, and then afterward, it becomes spontaneous.
- Spend more time with friends or people who make you laugh, and then you can also share jokes with them to prolong your laughter time.
- Some people who find pets joyful can try to spend time with their pets as much as they can to bring joy or laughter.
- Apart from all this, you can listen to funny podcasts or check on any comedian online or in your local area for any comedy show.
What is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter yoga, also known as laughing yoga, involves breathing and movement exercises to induce and promote deliberate laughter. It is a popular remedy to treat spiritual, physical, and psychological illnesses as it is believed that induced laughter has the same benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughing therapy has been in use for a long but laughter yoga was discovered in 1995 by a family physician in Mumbai, Dr. Madan Kataria. The concept behind laughter yoga is that the body is not able to differentiate between induced (fake) or spontaneous (real) laughter, so they both have the same effects of reducing stress, mood elation, pain alleviation, and improved health.
It is done at specific laughter yoga centers in a group led by a trained laughter yoga instructor who coached through various movements and exercises to bring joy and laughter. The typical session includes chanting, breathing exercises, improv, and other yoga aspects that will let you relax and laugh.
Laughter and humor are well known to have long-term physical and psychological effects. It has been in use since old times as a therapy to treat pain and other illnesses. But in recent times the research studies have proven the benefits of laughter in healing. Laughter reduces stress hormones in the body that are the main cause of many other conditions. It acts as a pain reliever and makes your attitude positive. Many people are using laughter therapy or laughter yoga to impact their lives positively, treat their chronic conditions, and improve overall health. You can try to include laughter in your life, and you will notice a positive difference in your mind and body health.