On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

Laughter Yoga: Why Laughter Really is the Best Medicine!

Perhaps few things feel as delicious as a good belly laugh — your head thrown back, eyes squinted shut with tears of mirth leaking down your cheeks, contagious guffaws coming straight from your abdomen in deep breaths that warm you all over.

It definitely feels good to laugh, but did you know there are a surprising number of mind and body health benefits, too? Laughing has been shown to improve your immune system, relieve pain, reduce stress and boost your mood.

Interestingly, the body doesn’t seem to know the difference between simulated laughter or spontaneous laughter. Studies have shown you reap the same physiological and psychological health benefits of laughter – your body is still going to respond to laughter by releasing endorphins and lowering stress hormones – whether your laughter is genuine or intentional.

In fact, there is actually an alternative mind/body practice based on the concept, called “laughter yoga,” which is steadily gaining in popularity across the globe. The practice is a combination of laughing exercises and yoga breathing, often held in a group setting.

What is Laughter Yoga?

Workshops are taught by certified laughter yoga instructors who guide students through a series of exercises that call for forceful laughing. It’s a surprisingly reliable delivery system that allows laughter to be prescribed in order to realize the health benefits.

Laughter yoga is not about laughing at others or at jokes — through a combination of deep breathing, deep laughing and physical movement, laughter yoga seeks to create harmony between the mind and body. The “laugh prescription” exercises enable everyone to laugh, even those who are serious, introverted or who may feel uncomfortable being funny. This laughter system is independent of amusement, but the forceful, intentional laughing often turns into real, organic laughter during the exercises (after all, laughter is often described as “infectious” for a reason).

Laughter yoga began in the 1990’s by Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor who came across various scientific studies that revealed a connection between laughter and mental and physical wellness. Convinced that laughter was a necessary tool for dealing with the stress of modern life, he developed breathing exercises and techniques that were similar to childlike role-playing in order to stimulate laughter in his patients. Once laughter yoga was born, Dr. Kataria launched the first Laughter Club in his neighborhood in Mumbai, India. There are now thousands of Laughter Clubs in more than one hundred countries around the world.

Here are the scientifically proven benefits of laughter.

1. Boosts Your Immune System

Laughter boosts the immune system by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease. Laughter also stimulates the lymph system.

2. Lowers Stress

Laughter releases a rush of stress-busting hormones like epinephrine and dopamine. A good, hearty laugh from the belly also oxygenates your body and provides an emotional and physical release, removing tension and leaving your body relaxed.  

3. Relieves Pain

Laughing can release endorphins, the body's natural pain killers, which can help ease chronic pain.

4. Gives Your Abs a Workout

Laughter can help you burn a few calories and tone your abs and diaphragm. When you are laughing, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, similar to when you intentionally exercise your abs. Some experts say laughter is “internal jogging.”

5. Protects Your Heart and Lungs

Laughter increases your heart rate and oxygen levels, which both improve the functioning of blood vessels and blood circulation. Laughing can help reduce blood pressure and protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

You Clap, Your Breathe, You Laugh

In order to reap the full health benefits of laughter, you'll need to laugh continuously for at least 10 to 15 minutes. The laughter must be loud and deep, and it is important to maintain a sense of childlike openness when practicing this form of yoga.

A great place to learn how to sustain deep laughter is to experience a laughter yoga class. A class guided by a certified laughter yoga instructor can give you a new mindset and remind you that even though it’s easy to get wrapped in the complications of adult life, it’s important to take yourself back to your childhood days, let yourself go and give yourself permission to play.

Essentials of Purposeful Laughter: Benefits, Habits, Levity and Joy

If you are interested in learning techniques to ignite your intentional laughter and improve the wellness of your mind, body and spirit, INTEGRIS is offering a six-week experiential workshop held every Tuesday night at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center. The class will be facilitated by Ellen Mercer, a certified instructor who is Oklahoma’s most experienced laughter yoga teacher and practitioner. The workshop costs $90 total for all six weeks and is hosted by the INTEGRIS James L. Hall Jr. Center for Mind, Body and Spirit.

For more information call the INTEGRIS HealthLine at 405-951-2277, or visit the website at integrisok.com/mbs.

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