The Power of Laughter
By Keith Varnum
When’s the last time you had a good laugh? Take a moment to relive the good feelings that come with real laughter.
We pay money to laugh. At the movies and at comedy clubs. We stay up to catch the jokes on late night talk shows. We delight in finding something funny in our lives to laugh at. When we laugh, we get pleasure. What a joy! What a blessing!
Certainly there are times when life presents major challenges when we need to act clearly, but behaving responsibly and efficiently doesn’t preclude humor and light-heartedness. In fact, a flexible, fluid, upbeat approach and attitude is crucial to being effective and creative in our lives.
Laughter, play, spontaneity and improvisation are integral aspects of being human, healthy, happy—and successful. Tribal peoples laugh, sing, chant, drum, dance and act out stories as basic ways to relate socially, to make individual and collective decisions, and to achieve their goals in daily life.
Inspiration and breakthrough are often born from the spirit of playfulness and exuberance. A spontaneous wink, a funny smile, a comic gesture can facilitate change and harmony in the most blocked situation. Through conscious merriment our spirit can emerge and work its magic.
Take a Tip from the Kid In You
Preschool children laugh an average of 400 times a day. The typical adult only laughs 17 times per day. Perhaps it’s time to return to the power of living life through the wonderment of childlike adventure, innocence, lightheartedness, humor and irreverence.
Throughout history, spiritual traditions in China, Japan and India have revered the sacred strength of laughter. Lao-Tzu is always pictured smiling. Samurai are always laughing. “Laughter Yoga” was a practice of the ancient rishis of India over 5,000 years ago. Dr. Madan Kataria of Mumbai, India, started a “Laugher Yoga Club” a few years ago, and now there are thousands of laughter yoga clubs across the world. The club members get together just to enjoy a deep chuckle—and reap the many benefits of mirth.
Hawaiian Secret of Laughter
The ancient Hawaiians assert there are two chemical reactions within the human body that can accomplish Reconnection with Source Oneness. The first is the “sacred tear” beneath our sadness and hopelessness. Beneath that tear lies the second chemical reaction, said to be more powerful than all the healing agents known to humankind. It comes “out of the blue” with the power of a jackhammer, shattering the seriousness of the entire human estate. A power instantly freeing and balancing to all the body’s chemistry. This is the power of laughter. When it comes in this manner, it comes through the “na’au” (gut level) and will pierce the hopelessness of any situation or attitude. It is not a power to be taken lightly, for the ancient Hawaiians say it holds the chemistry of immortality and will instantly heal any terminal disease. It’s said to be the “laughter of God” which shatters the ridiculousness of hopelessness.
Laughter Is the Best Medicine
A laugh a day keeps the doctor away! Having a good laugh has long been known to be very therapeutic. As we let laughter wash over and through us, its energy cleanses, purges, and rights imbalances and disharmonies in our mind and body. Hundreds of medical studies have shown the remarkable benefits of laughter.
A good belly laugh opens up your lungs, stretches your diaphragm, eases chest tension, and has an overall healing effect on your well-being. Laughter aids ventilation and clears mucus, improving respiratory functions for those suffering from conditions like emphysema and asthma.
Laughter improves blood vessel function, reducing blood pressure and heart rate, enhancing blood oxygen levels and boosting overall circulation.
Boosts Immune Defenses
Laughter increases the immune system’s T-cells, which kill invading bacteria that are harmful to the body. Laughing increases the number of antibodies in saliva, which combat upper respiratory infections. Laughter increases immunity to infections by instantly flooding the system with immune cells and cancer fighting proteins.
Cortisol is a chemical produced in your body when you feel stressed, upset or frustrated. Elevated levels of cortisol in your bloodstream have the effect of suppressing your immune system function. Laughter lowers the cortisol levels in the body, thereby protecting your immune system from the negative effects of stress.
A good laugh increases endorphins, which make a person feel happy and have a brighter outlook on life. Laughter also causes secretion of an enzyme that protects the stomach from forming ulcers.
Since cancer thrives in an oxygen-depleted body, laughter is helpful in combating cancer. Norman Cousins, in his book “Anatomy Of An Illness,” explains how he laughed himself back from the death sentence of a terminal illness just by watching funny movies, laughing hard, and taking vitamin C. There are hundreds of cases of laughter healing patients described as “terminally ill” with cancer and other ailments.
Laughter releases endorphins, providing natural pain relief.
Laughter reduces food cravings. Laughing 10 minutes a day burns 40 calories.
Is Enjoyable Exercise
Laughing can be considered an exercise since it conditions the abdominal muscles and relaxes muscles throughout the body. Twenty seconds of laughing gives the heart the same workout as 3 minutes of hard rowing.
Makes You Look and Feel Younger
Laughter reduces the rate of cellular decay, which slows aging. Also, the effects of laughter include better mental function, improved mental alertness, memory and social responsiveness.
Saves 30% on Medical Expenses
In western Japan the government provided elderly people with a complete medical care program combining physical training and laughter therapy. “It’s the nation’s first attempt to launch a medicare business with laughter,” commented university official Mitsutoshi Nishikawa. 92 participants reported their annual medical costs fell some 30 percent after they joined the program.
A Japanese scientist is unlocking the secrets of the funny bone by cheering up people’s genes. Geneticist Kazuo Murakami teamed up with an unlikely research partner: stand-up comedians—who turn their one-liners into efficient, low-cost medical treatment. Murakami’s approach is to use laughter to trigger energy inside a person’s DNA, potentially helping cure disease.
Murakami had diabetics laugh at a comedy show performed by top stand-up comedians after listening to a monotonous college lecture. The two-day experiment showed that the diabetics’ blood glucose levels (a key gauge for development of diabetes) became lower after they laughed— as compared with their levels listening to the boring lecture. He identified 23 genes that are activated with laughter. 18 of these genes control immune response and cell signal transmission.
“A laughing therapy has no side-effects, meaning it’s an epoch-making treatment for clinical medicine,” Murakami said. “One day it won’t be a joke to see patients receive a prescription for a comedy video at a pharmacy for medical treatment.”
Maintains a Healthy Heart
University of Maryland Medical School discovered that laughter helps keep your heart healthy. The scientists found that laughter-provoking movies cause the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels to expand, resulting in an increase of blood flow.
For their experiment, the team recruited 20 healthy volunteers to watch two segments of movies at the extreme ends of the emotional spectrum: the comedy “King Pin” and the war drama “Saving Private Ryan.” They found that when the study subjects watched a movie that caused laughter, beneficial blood vessel relaxation increased in 19 of the 20 volunteers. In contrast, blood flow was reduced in 14 of the 20 volunteers following the movie clips that caused mental stress. Overall, blood flow increased by 22 percent during laughter—and decreased by 35 percent after watching a clip that caused mental stress.
Lead researcher Dr. Michael Miller suggests people should combine regular exercise with 15 minutes of laughter a day for good cardiovascular health. “It’s conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain healthy blood vessels and reduce the risk of heart disease,” said Miller.
Laughter Inspires Clowning
Doctors, nurses and attendants now use “clowning” in hospitals to enhance the healing process with patients. They’ve discovered that when people are laughing and having fun, they experience less physical and psychological pain—and recover faster.
So … laugh more, heal quicker, live longer, and enjoy life as a kid again!