By Freyaz Shroff November 2011 Laughter is the over-the-counter medication, available 24 hours a day, to cure a variety of physical and emotional ailments, says Freyaz Shroff In the last few years, there has been a lot of emphasis on laughter therapy and laughter clubs, which has also received extensive media coverage. These are clubs or groups that get together on a regular basis and what they do is just laugh. Followers of this therapy were giving up their morning yoga or evening walks and spending one hour with strangers laughing. I was intrigued and started looking into why this was quickly becoming such a phenomenon. Here is what I found: � Laughter, it turns out, relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physi- cal tension and stress, leaving your mus- cles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after � Laughter boosts the immune system � Laughter decreases stress hormones � Laughter increases immune cells and infection- fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease � Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body�s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins pro- mote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain � Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardio- vascular problems In a personal testament to the effects of laughter, Cathy Goodman who was diagnosed with breast cancer, states in the book, The Secret, �One of the things I did to heal myself was watch very funny movies. That�s all that we (my husband and I) would do � just laugh and laugh�From the time I was diagnosed to the time I was healed was approximately three months and that�s without any radiation or chemotherapy.� Ever heard of laughing gas, also known as nitrous oxide? It is used in surgery and dentistry for its anesthetic and analgesic effects. It is known as laughing gas because of its euphoric effects, after inhaling it. Interestingly, in 2005, Dr Michael Miller (University of Maryland) and Dr William Fry (Stanford), � � 'One of the things I did to heal myself of cancer was watch very funny movies.� - Cathy Goodman, The Secret � � found that beta-endorphin like compounds released by the hypothalamus, in the brain, activate receptors on the endothelial surface to release nitric oxide, thereby resulting in the dilation of the vessels. They found that cardio-protective properties of nitric oxide include reduction of inflammation and decreased platelet aggregation. In other words we can stimulate our hypothalamus to generate a version of laughing gas, simply by engaging in the activity of laughter and this natural stimulation of laughing gas increases blood flow to our vital organs, decreases pain and protects our heart. Although the first official scientific studies on the benefits of laughter started emerging somewhere between 2000 and 2003, Sigmund Freud had started exploring the causes of laughter and its benefits back in 1905 when he wrote, The Joke and Its Relation to The Unconscious. Freud sorted humour into categories and explored primarily the psychological factors as they relate to humour. Today we can link Freud�s findings to the Relief theory, which basically suggests that laughter releases tension and �psychic energy,� thereby relieving anger and sadness. Why laugh? Laughter helps you stay emotionally healthy. Humour helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh or even simply a smile has been proven to go a long way towards making one feel better. The best part is even if we are not in a mood to laugh, just hearing laughter primes our brains and readies us to smile, thus allowing the positive benefits to start taking shape in our bodies. Some of the emotional benefits of laughter are outlined below: Shared laughter adds joy and vitality relationship � Laughter dissolves distressing emotions. It is virtually impossible to feel anxious, angry, or sad when one is laughing � Laughter reduces stress and increases energy, allowing for greater focus and the ability to relax and recharge � Humour shifts perspective, allowing situations to be seen in a more realistic, less threatening light � A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which keeps one from feeling overwhelmed Ulrike Bauer, a physiotherapist from Switzerland, says that laughter therapy has improved her relationship with her daughter, which was previously very aggressive. She goes on to say that, �I have more courage to be ridiculous and humble. Now, I don�t take life as seriously as before and feel a lot lighter.� Do you know that researchers have shown infants as early as 17 days old, have vocal laughing sounds or laughter? Babies have the ability to laugh before they ever speak. Children who are born blind and deaf are still able to retain their ability to laugh. Laughter researcher Robert Provine said: 'Laughter is a mechanism everyone has; laughter is part of universal human vocabulary. There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way.� Provine suggests that there are definite social benefits to laughter as well. Humour and playful communication strengthens relationships by triggering positive feelings and fostering emotional connection. When people laugh together, a positive bond is created. This bond then acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment. Laughing with others has been proven to be more powerful than laughing alone. Alex Sternick from Israel started peace building activities through laughter among the war-ravaged Jews and Arabs. The release of judgments, interpretations and expectations allowed healing to begin. He states that, �Laughter has helped me shift from being a complaining and self-victimised person to someone who creates his own reality and helps others to imbibe the power of laughter�� Building bonds When looking at relationships it has been shown that shared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play adds joy, vitality, and resilience, to a relationship. In addition to the above, humour is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter has been shown to unite people during difficult times. Outlined below are the ways using laughter helps build relationships: Freyaz Shroff is the head of operations worldwide and a success coach for KurNiv success solutions, committed to creating leaders, empowering teams and building organizations Visit: www.kurniv.com � Laughter allows for more spontaneity which takes the focus away from our immediate problem situations � Laughter helps one to release judgment, criticism and doubt � Laughter helps release fears � Laughter allows deeply felt emotions to come to the surface Paul E McGhee, PhD, spent 22 years conducting research on humour and laughter after earning his degree in developmental psychology in 1968. He has created a concept called the Laughter Effect which suggests that, �Your sense of humour is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.� In other words, laughter is the over-the-counter medication, available 24 hours a day to cure a variety of physical and emotional ailments. Cardiac rehabilitation to depression can all be aided with laughter. There is definitely something to be said for the wisdom of our ancestors. Our grandmothers knew generations ago that laughter is the best medicine. They may not have known about the hypothalamus and how it works, but they definitely knew that laughter increased happiness and intimacy. They knew that laughter boosted energy and kept us healthier longer. For now, the study on laughter and its effects, or gelotology, are still ongoing. Laughter clubs and the concept of laughter therapy definitely seem to have found a way to help us release our inhibitions and power our way to joyous life. As you move forward on your life journey, I wish for you laughter in abundance!
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