Sci­ence we love: Ten min­utes of belly laugh­ter equals 30 min­utes on the row­ing ma­chine

Friday - - Contents -

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,

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