“There isn’t much laughter in medicine but there is plenty of medicine in laughter.” Madan Kataria who is a doctor himself came to this realisation and went on to create what he called “laughter yoga” – a health enhancing group practice that combines yoga breathing exercises, child-like games and plenty of laughing for good health and happiness.
It is interesting to note that within the heart of crisis lies a seed of opportunity. Kataria’s realisation and discovery of laughter yoga came in the midst of a particularly stressful period in his life when he embraced laughter to relieve stress. Much to his amazement, he discovered that even a fake laugh can lower stress and enhance our immune system. Hence he has been rightfully advising, “Fake it until you make it. It actually worked.”
Many of us, at some point of time in our life, actually went through and shall be repeatedly cruising through many more episodes of that “particularly stressful period of our life”. Perhaps we should think of Kataria whenever we come face-to-face with those choppy parts of our life journey. Let him remind us to laugh over them. However fake or genuine the laughter may be, it is going to work. It is time for us to adopt laughing as part of our healthy lifestyle. After all, it is easy and free. It can be carried out anytime, anywhere so long as it is at a time and place that is socially acceptable. Moreover, great benefits abound. So, let us do it now. Let’s all be like a laughing Buddha.
Science has confirmed that laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving our resistance to diseases. Laughter also triggers the release of the painkilling feel-good chemicals within us called endorphins. Endorphins are the natural morphines that our body produces to balm the aches and pain all over our body and to give us that sense of general wellbeing that we need so much from time to time.
Virtually all studies of laughter and health so far have indicated positive results. In contrast to pharmacological medicines, there are hardly any side effects that could arise from laughter. Besides stress relief, laughter can bring about feelings of being uplifted or fulfilled. The act of laughing can lead to immediate increased pumping of the heart and deep breathing followed by a period of muscle relaxation, decreased pumping of heart, decreased breathing and a drop in blood pressure.
The fact that laughter increases natural killer cell activities certainly suggests that it should benefit those with cancer and Human Immunodeficiency Virus disease where their low natural killer cell activities are linked to increased morbidity.
The many voices of cancer survivors, of those who had employed laughter in their recoveries are certainly encouraging. One of the survivors, Scott Burton, once said, “The other reactions such as anger, depression, suppression and denial, took a piece of me with them. Each made me feel just a little less human. Laughter made me more open to ideas, more inviting to others and even a little stronger inside. It proved to me that even as my body was devastated and my spirit challenged, I was still a vital human.”
It is interesting to note that laughing is much more than just an emotional response to something funny. It is also very much physical. Laughing exercises several muscles in our body, including our abdomen, back, shoulders and 15 muscles of our face.
So, we should be laughing lavishly, perhaps in our privacy, from time to time, while we are working on something – however serious the work may be. It breaks the monotony of our work and makes it feel easier and lighter, perhaps even increasing our efficiency and performance by taking stress out of the equation. It is certainly good for us.
Laughter is good medicine. It relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving our muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes thereafter. Laughter also boosts our immune system.
The world authority on laughter, Prof. Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University, had done multiple studies on laughter and conclusively shown that laughing decreases stress. In one of his recent studies, he demonstrated that the laughter group had lower level of hormones corticosteroid, epinephrine and norepinephrine, all considered to be measures of stress. He also demonstrated that laughter increases the level of good protective cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) by 26 percent after one year as compared to only 3 percent in the control group. The level of CRP, a marker of inflammation was also noted to decrease by 66 percent compared to 26 percent in the control group.
In his earlier studies, he also demonstrated that beta-endorphins, the hormones that elevate our mood increased by 27 percent while human growth hormone (HGH) that helps to optimise immunity increases by 87 percent in study subjects who anticipated watching a humorous video.
Dr. Michael Miller, one of the authors of a study on the benefits of laughter on blood flow and vessel dilatation, once said, “A time will come when physicians might recommend that everyone gets 15 to 20 minutes of laughter in a day in the same way as they recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise.” Perhaps it is time to consider laughter as a sound prescription to enhance health along with eating vegetables, getting adequate exercise and enough sleep.
Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga is done in groups, with eye contact, jokes and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter.
Realising the immense health benefits of laughter, I strongly recommend setting up as many laughter yoga classes and clubs to promote laughter as a healthy lifestyle. Let us live healthier together while having fun laughing our way to good health.
My next column will be on ‘Typhoid – The story and misery’.
Dr. Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med.(Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases and excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr. Victor is also known for his skill in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via email [email protected]
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