The Healing Benefits of Laughter
By Erica Sofrina
‘Laughter is the shortest distance between two people‘ - Victor Borge
‘If you are too busy to laugh, you are too busy‘ – Robert Holden, founder of Brittan’s first Laughter Clinic
I found out a sad fact recently: children laugh on average 400-500 times per day and adults around 18 times. The depressing part was my own realization that I can go days without laughing at all. Something I intend to make a point of changing so I started a new group called the 30 Day Laughter Challenge.
The fact is that laughter is powerful medicine. Norman Cousins demonstrated this back in the 1970s with his revolutionary book Anatomy of an Illness, considered to have been the beginning of the mind-body revolution.
After being told that he had little chance of surviving a devastating illness, he developed a recovery program incorporating mega doses of vitamin C, along with a positive attitude, love, faith, hope, and laughter induced by his beloved Marx Brother films. “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he reported. “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”
I thought about one of my peak memories as a young adult around laughter and how it transformed an otherwise grim situation.
On the eve of my grandmother’s breast cancer surgery our large family packed into her hospital room for support. The prognosis didn’t look good and being in completely foreign territory we didn’t know what to say or do.
With the flawless instincts of a child, my brother’s eight-year-old step son had brought his most beloved joke book to read. We were politely trying to discourage him but our grandmother pronounced this a splendid idea, inviting him to climb up and read to us. Totally enthralled by this captive audience, he delivered each joke gem like a trainer feeding fish delicacies to his pet seals.
The situation was so absurd and the jokes so corny before long we were all belly laughing, my grandmother leading the charge. Timmy looking absolutely triumphant that his great book had been such a huge hit! I will never forget the look on the nurses face when she entered what I am sure sounded like a lunatic asylum. And, my grandmother came through it all just fine and went on to torture us for many more years to come
Research has shown that laughter can actually alter our perception. What before might have seemed impossible can become possible.*
Its transformative powers are presented in this wonderful YouTube video. A man enters a dreary subway car with a big smile on his face. Everyone is looking exhausted, the gnawing boredom of having to do this day after day evidenced in their sagging shoulders. He begins chuckling to himself as if he can’t suppress a funny memory. Passengers begin looking around curiously. He moves to a full out laugh then to guffawing uncontrollably. His fellow passengers moving from annoyance to curiosity, to embarrassment, then to suppressing a chuckling and finally to full out belly laughs. Once he gets the entire car going he stops and lets them continue on their own. A triumphant grin spreading across his face.
According to research laughter has been proven to contribute substantially to boosting the immune system, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and among many other things inspires us to see things in a fresh new way. It has the ability to “literally change our beliefs where we can imagine previously unimagined possibilities” as attested to by Robert Holden. You knew the people in this video went home with a lighter step and a brighter outlook after this encounter.
Laughter Yoga is a worldwide phenomena spreading to the U.S., which is touted as a complete well-being workout combining unconditional laughter with Yogic breathing.
Founded by the Indian Physician Mudan Kutaria in 1995, it is being used in India in schools and prisons and in the U.S. in elder care facilities, businesses and corporations to reduce stress, clear the mind, bring people together and build team work.( Can you imagine getting this curriculum into the U.S school system? They take class time for laugh sessions twice a day!)
Laughter Yoga is based on the scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between real and fake laughter. A person still receives the same physiological and psychological benefits.
People come together in groups to practice belly laughing without relying on humor, jokes or comedy. At first it feels contrived and awkward but before long it is contagious and you are freely laughing with a group of complete strangers. By the end the barriers are broken and you feel like you are in a room full of friends.
I encourage you to watch this gem of a video and start today by investing in the marvelous therapy of belly laughing and enjoy the positive physiological and psychological benefits of this free, easy feel good medicine!
If you are not laughing enough, I invite you to join me for a 30 day laughter challenge. We commit to belly laughing for at least 5 minutes twice a day and share our experiences.
Please share with us your own experiences of how laughter transformed a situation in your life. Enjoy!
Other Healing Articles by Erica Sofrina: