Laughter is no laughing matter! Well, it is, but it also offers serious physical, cognitive, emotional and social benefits…though we don’t need any boffin to tell us laughing is fun. Research has shown that there are numerous health benefits to having a good chortle, chuckle, giggle, guffaw, snigger, or snort. Whatever you like to call it, it’s all good. Laughter is said to help with over two dozen medical conditions including such sober ones as diabetes, eczema, heart disease, asthma and depression.
Having a laugh can boost the immune system and help fight infections. It can create an all round feel good factor, connect people, warm relationships, strengthen marriages and ease awkwardness. Humour can make you friendlier, more altruistic and more attractive to the opposite sex. Laughter can make for a decent workout, up to 40 calories can be burnt by 15 minutes of laughter. Those suffering from chronic pain are said to gain an analgesic effect from ten minutes of laughter.
Laughter is generally defined as a psycho-physiological response to humour or other stimuli. When you laugh your heart rate is increased, the larynx is constricted (making the gasping sound), which also releases endorphins, serotonin and dopamine into the brain. These effects are an antidepressant; they reduce both physical and mental stress and pain while giving a sensation of relaxation. Laughter can create the effect of a natural painkiller, improve anti-inflammatory activity and reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Other studies have shown that laughing can make you more touchy-feely, increasing levels of the ‘cuddle hormones’ oxytocin and melatonin. A genuine laugh can raise levels of antibodies in your saliva protecting your mouth and throat from infection. Research shows that even making your face smile can trick the body into feeling better.
Less comical and lesser known is that too much laughter can cause health problems, including giggle incontinence and Pilgaard-Dahl syndrome, a respiratory condition named after two Scandinavian comedians.
Across the world, laughter therapy has been used to cheer people up, for team building and simple relaxation. In Thailand, the traffic police recently attended a three day group workshop based on laughing. World Laughter Day, customarily celebrated on the first Sunday of May each year, was created to be a positive manifestation for world peace, with the intention of building up a global consciousness of brotherhood and friendship through laughter.
To gain the most benefits from laughing, it is advised one must laugh continuously for over 15 minutes. Most people love a good laugh, perhaps down the local pub with mates, giggling over some email at work, or simply laughing at life’s idiosyncrasies. For most of us, laughing doesn’t usually last 15 minutes, and if it did, we’d probably be considered barmy by passersby. So you will be happy to hear that short of sitting at home tickling yourself with a feather (which doesn’t work unless someone else is doing the tickling), Chiang Mai – land of plentiful – offers up laughing sessions for you to get in your daily chuckle.
It’s possible to laugh your socks off for up to an hour or more at one laughter yoga session, a new cackling craze. Laughter yoga was invented in 1995 by a doctor from Mumbai, with a passion for the power of laughter. He started off by launching his own laughter club with a handful of friends telling jokes in a park, the group grew to over 50 within a few weeks. After a while the jokes began to dry up and Dr. Madan Kataria took some time to rethink his concept, finally coming to the realisation that the body doesn’t actually need genuine laughter to gain the same physiological and psychological benefits, fake laughter is just as good. So in co-operation with his wife, a yoga teacher, Dr. Kataria came up with the revolutionary idea of laughter yoga.
Laughter yoga is a wellbeing workout. This off-the-wall exercise routine has become a worldwide phenomenon, today there are more than 6000 social laughter clubs in about 65 countries spanning the globe. Laughter yoga combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (Pranayama). It is possible to laugh without any reason. Laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group through eye contact and childlike playfulness, which soon turns into real and contagious laughter.
Last weekend I went to try out laughter yoga for myself. Along with another Citylifer, we rocked up at the palatial Chiang Mai Yoga Centre in our stretchy pants and the session began with some breathing and warm up exercises and continued into a drama/performance workshop, rather than the mat-based physical yoga we were expecting.
We soon relaxed and began to let go of our inhibitions, well some, as we pranced around the room acting as laughing clams, crocodiles and lions, grrr…ahahaa. The group is led by two young women, one with an acting background and another who has studied the art of laughter yoga in India, both facilitators made it their mission to make a fool of themselves in order to make others feel at ease. Though getting into the swing of things really wasn’t that difficult, there was a general good atmosphere and we were all up for a laugh. We laughed spontaneously, we sometimes had to fake it, at times it was tiring and our bellies ached, but genuine laughter would always return. (Especially upon catching the eye of someone else and recognising the absurdity of hopping around the studio as a giggling kangaroo.)
The aim of the group is for people to gain all the positive benefits from the power of laughter, and also to have a constructive influence on people’s daily lives. We stood in a circle and stated one thing that had recently annoyed us, then in turn the individual and whole group would bend over laughing about it. This exercise highlighted how laughter can be a useful way in dealing with life’s irritations. It makes sense, we should learn to laugh more, at ourselves and things that get on our nerves, bringing things to light that we would normally get frustrated and worked up about.
“It’s a great way of clearing the ghosts out,” said one group member, another continued; “it’s working for me; the last time someone peed me off, I just started laughing about it.”
If you’re wondering a how you can have more laughter in your life; seek out opportunities for laughter. Watch a funny DVD, spend time with people who make you laugh, go and sing karaoke or go on an adventure, visit a comedy club or form your own. Learn to laugh at yourself, telling embarrassing stories about yourself will make you laugh, and help you take yourself less seriously. And remember laughter is infectious, you’re more likely to laugh, and will laugh longer, with others. Now there’s something to smile about.
Laughter yoga runs every Sunday from 12 p.m. – 1 p.m. At The Yoga Tree, 65/1 Arak Road, 084 6981 982, www.theyogatree.org.