Laughter as Alternative Medicine

Laughter is healthy,needed even by the wealthy, and is definitely wise.

It is well known that a good laugh does you good, because every time you laugh you exercise seventeen different muscles in your face, it increases oxygen levels in the body and releases endorphins (feel good hormones) around your body.

It brings a sense of freshness into your home or workplace, costs nothing and is one of the best stress relievers known. In medical terms it is called “eustress” because it has the opposite effects to stress.

Stress increases blood pressure, but laughter reduces it. Stress depresses the immune system causing a person to be more susceptible to illness, but laughter elevates it. Stress also affects sleep, creating patterns of insomnia, laughter can cure it. Stress lowers our energy levels (physical, mental, emotional), whereas laughter picks them up.

In 1964, Norman Cousins was diagnosed with a painful and incurable inflammation-type disease. He checked out of hospital and into a hotel. He believed in the benefits of positive attitude and did not believe that the hospital environment was conducive to healing. In his hotel room he spent the next two weeks watching comedy programs on TV and reading books that made him laugh. He later wrote, “I made the discovery that 10 minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anaesthetic effect which lasted for at least 2 hours, giving me 2 hours pain-free sleep.” He recovered from his condition and spent the rest of his life teaching the medical benefits of laughter. Laughter can also be a great benefit in the workplace. In a recent scientific study, laughter therapy was found to improve the work of 30 students at a Malaysian university. The students found it relaxed them and helped them focus on their studies. They slept better and felt healthier.

In my workshops I find that when people laugh together it instantly breaks down any artificial barriers. It always promotes better communication and team spirit, healing any internal conflicts in the workplace. This is why a growing number of businesses are turning to laughter therapists as an alternative method of teambuilding and tackling stress problems. They recognize it helps staff to see the lighter side of life while staying focused on their role within the company.

In India there is a doctor called Dr. Kataria who runs laughter clubs. His book is called Laugh for No Reason. He has devised laughter sessions that are very much like yoga classes. They begin at a certain time every morning with laughing for 20 minutes, starting with haha…heehee…hoho until there is uproarious laughter. It is a tremendous way to start the day and frequently ends up with participants spontaneously breaking out into laughter for the rest of the day.

Steve Wilson is a laughter therapist who runs the World Laughter Tour. He trains people to teach others how to laugh. The work of a laughter therapist is simply to help people see the funnier side of life. They believe that each and every moment is what you make of it, that you can take it extremely seriously, or you can look at it differently and always see the lighter side. Every situation has a lighter side. The work of a laughter therapist is also about respecting that not everyone is ready to be uproarious or outrageous, allowing people to choose their level of participation so that nobody feels threatened or self-conscious.

Patch Adams is a wonderful doctor who believes that the combination of laughter and love are the best medicine. Patch has proved time and again in his work as a doctor, that laughter is a cure. He has made such an impact that millions have now seen the film “Patch Adams” based on his life and work. He even travels to war zones to bring laughter and joy, sometimes taking 40 clowns with him. They consist of doctors, nurses, therapists and lay people whose only qualification is a desire to serve in a loving and caring way. They dress as clowns so as to not be threatening to anyone of any age group. It is not the type of clown that would splash a pie in your face, but a caring clown, bringing fun and laughter to hospitals, prisons, old peoples homes and orphanages.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if hospitals offices prisons and schools had laughter room instead of smoking room? Patch Adams came to Scotland in the year 2000 to run a laughter workshop in the City Chambers in Edinburgh. The workshop was filmed by Swiss Television and a film was made called In Bed with Patch Adams. It shows him helping a man who was suffering with depression. Patch is in bed with the man helping him to practice laughter exercises. It was wonderful to watch someone who had a laughphobia, getting in touch with the lighter side of their dark nature and just laughing.

In May, I will travel to China with Patch and, as a laughter therapist, help him bring a smile to hearts and minds of many Chinese. And in June I will run a laughter workshop at the request of the Dalai Lama, who both carries and lives up to the legacy of the laughing Buddha.

When I was little, I would get in trouble for laughing in class at school. The teacher would put me outside the door because I would infect everyone else. Little did I know, that at the age of nearly 60, I would be teaching others how to chuckle, giggle and chortle their way through life. It’s almost laughable really!

Seriously Though… Laughter Works

Here’s why! These medical and psychological benefits of laughter are quoted from American scientific and medical journals.

  • Laughter reduces cortisol, which is a hormone that causes stress and increases endorphins, which are the body’s own natural opiates — they make you happy! Therefore when you laugh, the production of endorphins in your body keeps you feeling good for ages. (American Journal of the Medical Sciences)
  • Laughter eases muscle tension, which can be good for rheumatism. (Southern Medical Journal)
  • Laughter increases the body’s t-cell count, which are cells of the immune system that kill outside invading bacteria harmful to the body. Laughter also increases lymphocyte blastogenesis, which, put simply, means that the immune system works faster and more efficiently (Journal of Clinical Research)
  • Laughter aids ventilation and helps clear mucus plugs, which is good for respiratory conditions like emphysema (Journal of the American Medical Association)
  • Laughter induces an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, which exercises the myocardium and increases blood circulation causing a rise in the volume of oxygen and nutrients that are pumped to the tissues. (Journal of Biological Psychology)
  • Laughter increases catecholamines, which are known to boost mental function. Therefore laughter improves mental alertness, memory and interpersonal responsiveness. (Journal of the American Medical Association)
  • Laughter enhances blood oxygen levels and boosts circulation. (Journal of Biological Psychology) This is particularly important in combating cancer because cancer needs an oxygen-depleted body to survive. (Credence)
  • Laughter increases pain tolerance. (New England Journal of Medicine)
  • Laughter reduces the rate of cellular decay, thus slowing down the rate of aging. (Journal of the American Medical Association)
  • Laughter brings about an emotional high, which can enable problems to be seen from a different perspective, especially those of a stressful nature. (Psychological Reviews)

Margaret McCathie is an international laughter therapist working with companies and communities world wide. She can be contacted at Reprinted with permission from Heart & Soul, Issue #19. Bramha Kumaris Information Services, London, England.