laughterIt has often been said that laughter is the best medicine and the suggestion that laughter can heal is one that seems to be becoming increasingly popular.

The idea that laughter could be therapeutic was first discussed in detail by Norman Cousins. In a 1979 book entitled "Anatomy of an Illness" as Perceived by the Patient, Cousins discussed how he had used humour to overcome his own health struggles.

Benefits of Laughter

The power of laughter has many benefits. When people laugh they produce endorphins that make them feel good. It is the same sort of feeling that a person would get after exercising or even eating chocolate. It is believed that laughter can boost the immune system, help fight depression, ease pain, reduce stress and anxiety, and even protect against heart attacks.

Laughter therapy is also used to help those suffering from serious illness. The American Cancer Society believes that being able to laugh can improve the quality of life and many hospitals have introduced the power of laughter to help patients to keep feeling positive.

Studies

The claims that laughter can be beneficial for health have been confirmed by several studies. In 2011, researchers from Oxford University found that laughter could reduce feelings of pain. Participants in the research watched 15 minutes of stand-up comedy and the results found that they were more tolerant to pain, and the more people laughed, the more their pain tolerance increased.

In a study from 2000, researchers from Maryland University discovered that people who didn't laugh were significantly more likely to suffer a heart attack due to heart disease.

Another study conducted by the Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California showed that when a person laughs they modify the levels of neuroendocrine hormones – the hormones the body releases when a person is under stress. It was also found that "mirthful" laughter could help reduce cortisol – a hormone that is released when someone is under pressure.

These are just a few of the studies from the past few decades that appear to confirm that laughing – or ultimately de-stressing – really is good for the mind, body and soul.

Laughter Therapy

Although laughter might not be the first thing most people think of when it comes to de-stressing and boosting their health, there are many groups that advocate the use of this type of therapy. In fact, laughter therapy appears to be gaining plenty of momentum with more than 6,000 groups worldwide, according to laughteryoga.co.uk.

Laughter Therapy in Everyday Life

Laughter therapy is something that experts believe can be used to manage stress in day-to-day life, for instance, when someone is stuck in a traffic jam or at the supermarket checkout. The idea is to see the funny side of a situation rather than the negative. This will help to keep the stress levels down and the endorphins up. It will also help to control surges in blood sugar and blood pressure, which often occur when the body feels under theat.

It is also suggested to use laughter to manage relationships or in the workplace to help keep stressful situations at bay.

Laughter Workshops

Several groups now run laughter workshops where people will be taught laughter meditations and exercises. These workshops are used by organisations such as the NHS, and companies like Coca-Cola who can also see the potential benefits of using this unique form of therapy.

Laughter Yoga

"Laughter yoga" is a term that a lot of people won't be familiar with but it has started to see a spike in popularity over the last few years. Laughter Yoga was created by an Indian doctor called Dr Madan Kataria. The classes involve using laughter exercises along with yogic breathing exercises to assist the production of oxygen in the body. The increased oxygen will make people feel more alive and energetic, as well as helping them to relax.

Laughter Therapists

If you are one of those people that feel self-conscious in large groups, then there are also laughter therapists. Therapists believe that laughter can help someone feel more positive and empowered.

Image credit: subbotina / 123RF Stock Photo

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