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November 30, 2015

Laugh Yourself to Better Health.

cheriejoyful/Flickr

One of the funniest things I ever saw, whilst standing on my hotel balcony in New Delhi, India, was a group of people gathered together in the local park waving their arms about, pulling faces at each other and laughing.

I couldn’t figure it out. Men and women of all shapes, sizes and age groups behaving ridiculously in public at five a.m. in the morning. Not something we see very often here in the UK; in fact, most of us get excited about sharing a brief conversation with fellow dog walkers, so being jolted from your sleep at such an ungodly hour by laughter is practically unheard of.

Curiosity got the better of me, and I wandered over to see what all the commotion was about, which is when I got swept into the madness of Laughter Yoga.

Laughter Yoga is the concept of laughing for absolutely no reason other than to feel good and improve our health. Brought about in 1995 by medical doctor Madan Kataria in Mumbai, India, laughter yoga started with just a handful of people gathered together in a local park, telling jokes to each other and laughing.

For various reasons, this didn’t work, and he went off to devise a set of exercises consisting of breath work, clapping, chanting and childlike playfulness, which subsequently caught on across the globe.

Having experienced laughter yoga in Delhi however, I got to thinking about adults in the UK and how we seem to have somehow forgotten the art of letting go. Children, on the other hand, are so different; their laughter is unbridled, unaffected and totally contagious. When a child lets rip with laughter, they can transform the mood of a whole room in minutes, but as adults we become tainted by the stresses of life until there doesn’t seem much to laugh about.

One thing’s for certain, after what I experienced in India, it certainly won’t happen to me, and I hope it doesn’t happen to you either.

But does this mean that those crazy laughing people in India don’t have stress in their lives? Of course it doesn’t. We all have stress in our lives, but the difference is that they choose not to become consumed by it, and laugh instead.

Having trained under Dr. Kataria’s school of Laughter Yoga, I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of laughter on so many different levels, and wherever possible I incorporate laughter in my work as a stress consultant.

When we laugh, the chemical serotonin is released into the bloodstream, creating a heightened sense of well-being, which is why it’s also known as the body’s natural feel-good chemical. Serotonin acts in exactly the same way as antidepressants, but that’s not all. It’s also a natural painkiller, so the time spent in the doctor’s waiting room might have been cut if we’d only had a few good belly laughs beforehand.

But where do we start?

An interesting thing about laughter: Our brain doesn’t know if it’s real or fake, so the same chemical is released whichever way we do it. For this reason, there are lots of things we can do to bring about laughter in our lives—things such as standing in front of the bathroom mirror, pulling silly faces and having a real good chuckle, or surrounding ourselves with humour (a favourite comedy show or attending a laughter yoga session where fun and silliness happen in a group).

Laughter Yoga really is an excellent immune system booster, and if you attend a group, you’ll be amazed at how infectious and funny it can be, especially if the person next to you has an “out of the ordinary” type of laugh.

Evidence has shown that regular periods of laughter have amazing effects on physical and mental health. Laughter is proven to lower blood pressure, regulate heart rate, improve circulation, tone up those facial muscles, improve our breathing and lung capacity and also possibly slow down the growth rate of cancer cells.

The brain may not be able to differentiate between real and fake laughter, but one thing’s for sure: Once we start using laughter in our daily routine, the results can be amazing.

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Relephant Read:

Watch: the Benefits of Laughter Yoga, with Silliness Expert John Cleese of Monty Python.

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Author: Julie Kelly

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: cheriejoyful/Flickr

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Julie Kelly