Studies have shown that laughter reduces stress, lifts your mood and is a powerful antidote to depression and anxiety. It also has some physical advantages – it’s been known to boost your immune system and to help to control blood pressure, to name a few.
To get an idea of what this is, watch this hilarious video of British actor and comedian John Cleese as he takes a laughter yoga class while in India:
"The act of vigorous laughter energises our physiology in much the same way that aerobic exercise does, increasing heart and respiration rate and activating various muscle groups. After an episode of laughter, however, our bodies enjoy a relaxation effect," reports a US study on Workplace Laughter and Personal Efficacy by Beckman, Regier and Young. The study findings were published in The Journal of Primary Prevention.
It all sounds good and well, you might say, but in between deadlines, traffic jams, mortgage payments and escalating crime rates it’s not that easy to find something to laugh about.
Fake it ‘till you feel it
There are, however, ways to reap the benefits of laughter without humour or comedy.
In 1995 Dr Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India, developed Laughing Yoga – a series of laughing techniques designed to imitate laughter through playful exercises. It quickly gained popularity, and today there are more than 5 000 laughter yoga centres around the world.
"Your body can’t tell the difference between pretend laughter and spontaneous laughter," says Martin Combrinck from Laughter for Africa.
"Anybody can laugh for 15 to 20 minutes without a sense of humour, jokes or comedy," says Combrinck. "In laughter yoga we use laughter as a tool, not an emotion. Simulated laughter soon becomes real when practised in a group."
How do they make you laugh?
It might be difficult to imagine what one might laugh at if there are no jokes, humour or comedy.
A laughing yoga session kicks off with childlike, almost silly, exercises – such as greeting one another with a laugh (even a fake one) rather than saying "hello". Another amusing exercise is fake laughter, where you "Ho-ho-ho-ha-ha-ha" like a hysterical Santa Claus. The fake laugh quickly turns in to real laughter when one person laughs at another, or at him/herself. You laugh because they laugh, they laugh back – and the next thing you know everyone’s hollering like a pack of hyenas.
The second part of laughter yoga is called "laughter meditation". The group members sit down in silence for a few minutes and then start faking laughter until it flows spontaneously.
The session ends with some relaxation and breathing.
What is its purpose?
"We laugh as a way to improve health, increase wellbeing, and promote peace in the world through personal transformation," says Combrinck.
What’s more, a recent US study on the effect of laughter yoga on employees’ sense of self-efficacy in the workplace found that purposeful laughter actually enhances employees’ morale, resilience, and personal efficacy beliefs.
A study conducted in India, which measured the effect of laughter on stress levels in the workplace, showed a significant decrease in stress levels reflected in reduced heart rate and blood pressure, reduced cortisol levels and an 11% decrease in perceived stress levels.
It seems laughter yoga is the trendy new thing to do at conferences and business meetings. "It’s very popular in the corporate environment," says Combrinck.
Laughter for Africa also gives laughter yoga seminars.
"It breaks down barriers and social hierarchy – bosses and employees connect in a new way," says Combrinck. "Laughter yoga boosts creativity as well as productivity in the workplace."
A word of wisdom
For once science and religion agrees that: "A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones," as it is written in the book of Proverbs. – (Wilma Stassen, Health24, November 2007)
Laughter the best medicine
Laughter is ha-ha-heart healthy