Science we love: Ten minutes of belly laughter equals 30 minutes on the rowing machine
Does a laugh out loud a day help keep the doctor away?
SStress and ill health are no joke but it seems the old saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’ is actually not such a funny idea after all.
The good news is that you don’t need to be in a genuinely amusing situation to reap the benefits of a good laugh.
Laughter yoga is the brainchild of Dr Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai, India, now popularly known as the ‘Guru of Giggling’.
While researching the health benefits of laughter in 1995, he decided to test them out on himself and his patients.
At 7am on March 13, 1995, he went to his local public park and managed to persuade four people to join him in starting a ‘laughter club’. They laughed together in the park that day – much to the amusement of bystanders – but within a few days, the small group had grown to more than 50 participants.
At first, the group would stand in a circle with one person standing in the centre telling a joke or recounting a funny story. After a healthy outburst of laughter, the participants would each go their own way, enthused and feeling good to face the day ahead.
But after two weeks a problem emerged – the good jokes dried up, some group members felt offended by what they deemed inappropriate jokes and it was suggested that it might be better to close the club than continue down this path.
Dr Kataria asked club members to bear with him while he identified a suitable way forward. They didn’t need to wait long; that night he read scientific papers that showed the human body cannot distinguish between real and ‘fake’ laughter – both produce the same ‘happy chemistry’, hormones that boost the immune system and blood circulation to the body and brain for feelings of good health.
The next morning he explained this to the group and asked them to try to act out laughter with him for one minute. Amid scepticism they agreed to try – and the results were amazing.
For some, the acted-out laughter quickly turned into real laughter, which in turn was contagious and very soon others followed. Soon the group was laughing like never before.
The hearty laughter that followed persisted for almost ten minutes. This breakthrough was the birth of laughter yoga.
Understanding that there were ways other than humour to stimulate laughter, Dr Kataria developed a range of laughter exercises including elements of role-play and other techniques from his days as an amateur dramatic actor. Realising the importance of childlike playfulness, he developed further techniques to stimulate this within the group.
He proceeded to train others in his laughter yoga techniques and there are now in excess of 10,000 laughter yoga clubs in more than 100 countries around the world, in the US, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, China and Africa, where people can laugh unashamedly regardless of how happy, stressed or ill they feel when they arrive and know that the ‘workout’ will leave them feel upbeat and energised.
Laughter yoga is also becoming increasingly commonplace in business environments, schools and hospitals as followers seek to reap the physiological and psychological benefits it offers.
Dr Kataria has even worked with the Indian Army. One YouTube clip shows dozens of grown military men practising enforced group laughter exercises. Very quickly, as they relax into the workshop, it becomes natural, genuine laughter.
Professor Duncan Geddes, a consultant in respiratory medicine at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, confirms that ‘laughter is an important medicine.
‘It is an expression of happiness and happiness is good for all of us. It stimulates the body’s defences,