At first, it was a little uncomfortable to be in a room full of people, making eye contact and forcing myself to laugh and then all of a sudden, it wasn’t . In the words of Dr. Kataria, “You have to fake it until you make it” and that’s just what happened. Soon after starting the exercise, I was overcome with laughter. Real laughter. As if I had written The Funniest Joke in the World and you know what happened to that guy. In fact, one of my favorite comedic actors, John Cleese of Monty Python fame, is one of Dr. Kataria’s biggest fans . Cleese has said, “Quite often, when we’re with people we like, we laugh although there isn’t anything particularly funny going on but of course, the whole thing is wonderfully ridiculous.” and he went on to say, “Laughter is a force for Democracy. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re howling with laughter.”, so I decided to do a little research on my own.
It turns out that Dr. Kataria was a medical doctor practicing in India when in 1995, he decided to try combining laughter with yoga breathing techniques and gentle stretching. What started out as five people in a Mumbai Park has grown to over 5000 laughter clubs in 50 countries. Studies show that preschool children laugh an average of 400 times a day, while adults laugh only about 17 times. Through Laughter Yoga, we are relearning something that children already know instinctively; that laughter makes you feel better.
There is actual science to back this up. Lee Berk at Loma Linda University has spent more than 30 years studying how laughter effects what’s going on in our bodies and what he’s found is nothing short of amazing. Laughter actually reduces the levels in your blood of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which are known to weaken the immune system and even shorten life expectancy. At the same time it actually boosts your level of endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that produce a feeling of well being associated with the pleasure centers in the brain.
Research has found that even the anticipation of laughter produces many of the same beneficial results. One thing is for sure, laughter is the universal language that connects us all and forces us to live in the present. Just try planning for the future or worrying about the past when you’re busting out laughing. I guess all this just goes to prove that laughter really is the best medicine.
Until next time, in the words of Wet Willie, “Keep on Smiling, Man”.