Laughing just for fun is good for you.

Origins of laughter yoga

In 1995 a medical doctor in India was looking for ways to improve complete health.  Not just physical health.  Not just mental health.  Complete health, including physical, psychological, social and spiritual health.  He believed that laughter was good for all aspects of health and started to explore how it might be used.

Dr. Madan Kataria had read about the healing power of laughter.  The moving story by Norman Cousins, in his book “Anatomy of an Illness” tells of his struggle with a potentially fatal disease that gave him considerable pain, interfering with his ability to get comfortable and rest.  What he found was that, after laughing for several minutes, he could rest and sleep.  He attributed his recovery to the use of laughter, his belief in designing his own treatment and a close supportive relationship with his physician.

 

Laughing in the park

Dr. Kataria and his wife and a few friends started going to the park in the early mornings and generating laughter by telling jokes.  After only a few days the jokes became unfunny, verging on the offensive.  There had to be another way of generating laughter.  Dr. Kataria came up with the idea of using laughter exercises that did not use humour to generate laughter.  He invented many exercises to get people laughing together.

 

The yoga part of laughter yoga

Dr. Kataria’s wife is a yoga teacher.  Laughter exercises were combined with yogic breathing.  Deep breathing exercise, pranayama is part of many yoga practices.  Prolonging and extending the breath and slowing breathing down are powerful ways to access the parasympathetic nervous system which has a calming effect.  In laughter yoga, the laughter exercises are interspersed with deep breathing which acts to calm and restore balance following the physical effort of laughing.

 

The contagion effect of laughter yoga

Laughter is an innately contagious behaviour.  Humans are hard-wired to want to join in when they hear other people laughing.  They don’t need to know the reason for the laughter.  Although laughter yoga starts off with pretend laughter, it quickly progresses to real laughter.  The normal group setting promotes a ripple effect.

 

Qualitative study of the impact of laughter yoga suggests stress inoculation.

In 2019 I carried out a study as part of my Masters in applied positive psychology.  I interviewed nine members of a laughter club who met once a month for one hour. The aim was to explore the experiences and perceptions of laughter yoga.  They reported beneficial effects on mood, stress release, confidence and physical health.  Participants told me that laughter yoga had led to a change in perspective on life with a lighter, more open and confident outlook.   Laughter yoga, at a dose of one hour per month, was regarded as a valued coping strategy for dealing with the ups and downs of life.  At that time, pre-pandemic, people told me that laughter yoga had the effect of inoculating them against the stresses of daily life.

 

Laughter yoga alleviates loneliness

During lockdown laughter yoga has often been delivered virtually.  A 2021 paper by Dr. Christopher Williams and colleagues from Cambridge University reported the potential for laughter yoga as a scalable and deliverable intervention for people who were shielding during the pandemic.  Their study reported that laughter yoga had beneficial effects on loneliness in people in care homes.

 

Scientific study of laughter

Laughter is a naturally occurring social behaviour that is context based.  It is not an easy subject to study.  As soon as people attempt to study it, it becomes illusive.  Laughter yoga has been shown to be potentially useful in the alleviation of anxiety and depression.  The scientific study of laughter is still in it’s infancy but this accumulating evidence is compelling.

 

Scalable, sustainable and available

Laughter is a universal language.  Everybody knows how to laugh and it’s available to us all.  Laughter yoga is a low cost and accessible activity which has many reported benefits.  As we emerge from lockdown and regain our social connectivity and confidence, laughter yoga is a scalable and sustainable complete health activity from which we may all benefit.

 

How to laugh your way to better wellbeing

We all know how to laugh.  It’s free and it’s fun.  The phrase “laughter is the best medicine” is a familiar one and most people would agree that laughter is a positive contributor to wellbeing.

Talking to David Wilkinson, editor of the Oxford Review about our work on laughter yoga was a wonderful experience.  David describes our conversation as “a hoot”.  It certainly gave me a boost.

In this podcast we discuss our article “No laughing matter: Qualitative study of the impact of laughter yoga suggests stress inoculation” which was published in the European Journal of Applied Positive Psychology earlier this year.  It’s an easy read and the link is here.

 

 

 

References

Bressington, D., Mui, J., Yu, C., Leung, S. F., Cheung, K., Wu, C. S. T., … & Chien, W. T. (2019). Feasibility of a group-based laughter yoga intervention as an adjunctive treatment for residual symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress in people with depression. Journal of affective disorders, 248, 42-51.

Cousins, N. (1979). Anatomy of an illness.  W.W. Norton & Company.

Hatchard, A., & Worth, P. (2021). No laughing matter: Qualitative study of the impact of laughter yoga suggests stress inoculation. European Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 5(2), 2397-7116.

Williams, C. Y., Townson, A. T., Kapur, M., Ferreira, A. F., Nunn, R., Galante, J., … & Usher-Smith, J. A. (2021). Interventions to reduce social isolation and loneliness during COVID-19 physical distancing measures: A rapid systematic review. PloS one, 16(2), e0247139.

We all know how to laugh.  It’s free and it’s fun.  The phrase “laughter is the best medicine” is a familiar one and most people would agrethat laughter is a positive contributor to wellbeing.

Talking to David Wilkinson, editor of the Oxford Review about our work on laughter yoga was a wonderful experience.  David describes our conversation as “a hoot”.  It certainly gave me a boost.

In this podcast we discuss our article “No laughing matter: Qualitative study of the impact of laughter yoga suggests stress inoculation” which was published in the European Journal of Applied Positive Psychology earlier this year.  It’s an easy read and the link is here.

 

‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’

 

 

Share This