Laugh Your Way to Better Living
Mirth’s worth. Laughter is as important to our physical, emotional and mental well-being as eating nutritious foods, exercising and developing relationships.
Chuckles, giggles, belly laughs.
We laugh naturally and spontaneously many times a day for many different reasons. Some experts feel laughter is as important to our physical, emotional and mental well-being as eating nutritious foods, exercising and developing relationships.
By all accounts, the modern humour therapy movement was inspired by the writings of Norman Cousins with his book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient (1979). It recounts how, stricken with a painful disease, Cousins hired a nurse to read him funny stories and watched Marx Brothers films to distract him from the pain.
According to Cousins, 10 minutes of hearty laughter would induce two hours of pain-free sleep and helped him recover from an illness diagnosed as irreversible. Beth Agnew, a certified laughter teacher (laughpractice.blogspot.com) and a technical communications professor at Seneca College, is convinced that you can use laughter as an antidote for depression, to manage stress, to boost your immune system and to improve your ability to think and make decisions.
The medical community, however, thinks this might be taking a joke too far, as is the notion that laughter can overcome the biology of cancer, infectious diseases or other physical disorders. Dr. Robert Buckman (drbuckman.com), a medical oncologist at Princess Margaret Hospital and professor at the University of Toronto, is adamant that laughter is not a miracle cure.
Hunter (Patch) Adams, MD, is known for dressing up as a clown and entertaining seriously ill patients. He founded the Gesundheit! Institute in Arlington, Va., as a free clinic incorporating humour therapy with traditional health care. He was portrayed by Robin Williams in the 1998 film Patch Adams. Whatever the method, this is where experts agree on the health effects of laughter.
Physiologically, laughter gives your internal organs — especially your heart and lungs — a good workout. It exercises the diaphragm and brings more air into your lungs. This increases the supply of oxygen in the bloodstream, thus aerating your brain and improving your circulation.
Buckman suggests that “laughter, probably but not certainly, causes the release of certain endorphins that are basically pain-killing chemicals made in the brain. Endorphins reduce the sensation of pain and affect emotions. Almost certainly, laughter decreases the intensity of any symptom you can think of, particularly pain. If you can laugh or are laughing, your pain threshold is probably raised so you feel less pain.”
WHERE TO LAUGH
Laughter clubs started in India during the mid-’90s. Mumbai physician Dr. Madan Kataria became convinced that regular vigorous laughter could lead to better health. He urged sick patients to laugh for at least 10 minutes every day. Kataria’s wife, a yoga teacher, added breathing exercises and gentle stretching. Today, there are 6,000 clubs in 60 different countries, including 90 clubs in Canada (laughteryoga.org).
“Laughter yoga does not involve downward dog, wearing spandex or use yoga mats. The yogic part refers to breathing,” says Wendy Woods, a Toronto-based corporate trainer and certified laughter yoga professional, who studied with Kataria and was a speaker at CARP’s Conference on a New Vision of Aging. Through her company, Watershed Training Solutions (watershedtraining.ca), she leads many workshops including Laughter Yoga and Laughter in the Workplace.
“We do a bit of stretching and laughter activities where we start faking and forcing laughter because, in fact, the body doesn’t know the difference between laughter that’s real or fake. Laughter is pretty contagious and, soon, the natural laughter kicks in.”
Bring more laughter into your life with these suggestions from Beth Agnew.
1. Believe there’s an upside to everything — look for the funny things all around you. People who laugh have a more positive outlook on the world and are generally in a better mood.
2. Fake the laughter until you feel like laughing.
3. Engage with others in activities that generate laughter — go to funny movies, tell each other harmless jokes, share funny stories. Remember to be kind, though. Laughing at someone’s expense is not mirthful laughter, just cruel.
4. Make eye contact with others — start smiling and then create a gentle laugh. Turn up the volume of your laughter until you are laughing out loud. Everyone around you will join in. Eye contact is important to connect you to other people.
Stress Busting: Try these easy at-home remedies
We’ve all heard that too much stress can take its toll. An investigation led by the University of California, San Francisco, found telomeres are at the root of a study linking stress and aging. Telomeres are DNA proteins that cap the ends of chromosomes, providing them with genetic stability.
These telomeres shorten as cells divide, and as we age. When they get too short, the cap is no longer functioning, and the cell deteriorates. In the study, women caring for chronically ill children had greater levels of stress and had telomeres that were shorter on average by the equivalent of at least 10 years. The bottom line: stress not only causes premature aging but may also promote earlier onset of age-related diseases. Try a little DIY therapy and relax, you’ll live better, longer. —Kristen Laborde
Take As we age, our bodies become less efficient at neutralizing free radicals. Naturopathic doctor EeVon Ling recommends a vitamin B complex with magnesium and vitamin C, “to help the body deal with stress and aging effectively.” B complex supports the nervous system, metabolism and energy production and helps produce red blood cells; magnesium is a muscle relaxer and sleep aid; and C blocks free radicals.
Try: Jamieson Laboratories Omega-3 Calm Fast-Dissolving Strips
Breathe. To reap the benefits of aromatherapy almost instantly, try inhalation. “The odour molecules in the essential oil travels to the back of the brain, hitting the hypothalamus, responsible for memory, mood and behavioral functions and sleep,” says Marlene Mitchell of the International Certified Aroma-therapy Institute. Lavender essential oil, she adds, is thought to put the brain into a relaxed state.