Laugh your way to wellbeing
“Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand”
They say laughter is the best medicine but is that really true? Before we think about that, let me ask you a question:
When was the last time you had a really big belly laugh, the sort that gets you thrown out of a good restaurant? Think carefully now….today? Yesterday? Last week? Bit longer?
Sadly, as adults we don’t laugh very often. If we do, it tends to be ‘polite’ laughter lasting just a few short seconds. That’s a sad thought for many reasons and particularly so in terms of our personal wellbeing.
Laughter has many physical and emotional health benefits, for instance its stress busting super-powers. A series of experiments by scientists Berk and Fry showed that laughter dampens the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that naturally suppresses immune function.
They showed that through laughter, cortisol levels decreased, concluding that ‘laughter led to objective, measurable, and significant neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes which can reverse or attenuate hormonal changes brought on by stress’.
Further work showed that joyful laughter increases the production of natural-killer cells, which help the body to fight viral infections and cancerous growths.
Subsequent reports by Berk and others suggest that laughter can have valuable effects on everything from heart disease to diabetes and allergies. Studies have indeed shown that laughter boosts the immune system, reduces hypertension (high blood pressure), alleviates depression and anxiety and also provides natural pain reduction.
If you need any more convincing then it also offers an anti-ageing formula by reducing wrinkles and toning and firming facial muscles!
Maybe there is something to be said for laughter as the best medicine after all!
However to reap these benefits, laughter needs to be sustained for 15 minutes.
Hmmm, back to my original question….when did you last have that big belly laugh?
Life is so busy and there seem to be so many reasons not to laugh that the idea of regular 15 minutes of laughter seems unachievable.
Surely, we’ve got to be in the right frame of mind to laugh- the last thing many of us feel like doing in the middle of a stressful situation or at the end of a long day is laughing! Well, we have a solution for you…
Laughter Yoga is a unique concept where we laugh for no reason- that’s right- no comedy, jokes or humour, just laughing for laughter’s sake without relying on being in the right frame of mind or the need to ‘get’ the joke. The yoga part refers to accompanying deep breathing exercises, which leads to increased body oxygenation. We tend to breathe from high up in our chest, particularly when stressed or anxious, meaning that we miss out on the many wonderful benefits that deep breathing offers. When we breathe deeply and let the breath out slowly we instantly feel calmed along with additional benefits such as improved concentration, productivity and energy.
Natural laughter depends upon many reasons and conditions, and so is a chance occurrence – it may happen or it may not. In contrast, laughter yoga makes a commitment to laughing so guaranteeing the health benefits of laughter.
And here’s the really good bit – the body cannot differentiate between real and fake laughter; the same health benefits occur regardless.
Laughter yoga takes advantage of this: laughter may begin as false but is soon replaced by real, contagious laughter. Laughter decreases the stress hormone cortisol and produces natural endorphins, the happy chemicals that lead to feelings of wellbeing, happiness and a zest for life; these effects can last for 24 hours after the session. Now that’s a great medicine!
Research shows that most of us already possess the skills we need to be resilient, creative, productive and happy, but more often than not we either overlook, or in some cases dismiss, the most effective, most rewarding and simplest of strategies. Research shows that if we understand a few simple truths about biology and cognitive behaviour we can all make raising our happiness levels a part of our every day.
Laughter is one such example of how we can use our body’s natural responses to our best advantage, so go on…crack a smile, have a little giggle and risk getting thrown out of the restaurant with your biggest belly laugh!
Here’s some ways in which you can increase laughter and therefore wellbeing:
- Start the day with a smile. Instead of greeting the alarm clock with a grunt, smile as it goes off. Remember the body can’t tell the difference between real and fake so your smile doesn’t have to be heart-felt – a smile is enough to get those endorphins flowing.
- You might not want the world to hear you laughing so save it for the shower. As you lather up do so with a giggle- just start laughing (I know you’ll feel whacky!) and before you know it you’ll be enjoying the funniest shower ever!
- Learn to laugh at stressful situations. This will take practice but if you can learn to laugh at situations instead of ranting and raving you’ll feel a whole lot better and ultimately develop greater resilience to deal with life’s ups and downs.
- Enjoy the sound of others laughter. There is something wonderful about the sound of laughter. When you next hear laughter, stop, take notice, lose yourself in the therapeutic sound and smile (if not laugh) along with them.
- And breathe……notice your breathing- where is the breath coming from? High up in your chest or low down in your belly? How fast is it, how deep? Every hour take a couple of minutes out to take a few deep breaths- breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and breathe out again for 5 seconds. The effect on your stress levels, focus and concentration is instant and wonderful!
- Come along to our weekly Laughter Yoga class. We meet each Wednesday evening from 6.30-7.30pm at Birstall Methodist Church, Wanlip Lane, Birstall for an hour of laughter, deep breathing and relaxation. It will (probably!) feel whacky to begin with but do it anyway – you will feel fantastic as a result! Just get in touch if you’d like more information.
- Practice laughing. The more you laugh, the more laughter will come naturally, freely and more regularly and as we’ve just described that really is the best medicine!