The Healing Power of Laughter

There’s tremendous irony to the quote “He who laughs... lasts.” While good old Mark Twain may have been chuckling years ago as he spouted out that famous quote, he would be thrilled today to learn that modern research is supporting his theory. Proverbs tells us, “Laughter is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” And don’t forget: “Laughter is the best medicine.” Another cliche come true, now being backed by modern science.

You might laugh when you hear this-but it’s true: researchers are adamant that laughter is indeed powerful medicine. Along with a good belly laugh comes a healthy shot of immunity-boosting cells and infection-fighting antibodies. As you kick back and giggle with a friend, you’re helping your body to relieve physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes afterward. The body’s natural feel-good chemicals are released during a good, hearty laugh-attack-chemicals that work to boost your mood, temporarily relieve pain and encourage an overall sense of well-being. Blood flow gets a good boost during laughter too, helping to protect your heart and your entire cardiovascular system.

Laughter is a powerful response, one that can help reduce anxiety, anger, even sadness. Allowing yourself to laugh can help to relax your muscles, reduce stress, and helps give you a welcome energy boost-especially if you’ve been feeling down. Because healthy laughter literally brings you UP!

According to a poll conducted by USA Today/Gallup, 63 percent of Americans are “optimistic” or “very optimistic” about the country’s future. And what is really interesting is that this positive outlook may have a positive effect on their health: After reviewing multiple studies, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health recently determined that optimism may reduce a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 50%, regardless of age, weight, or smoking status.

No joking... Here are just a few of the amazing benefits from laughter:

Feel-good hormones. A bout of laughter releases mood-boosting hormones called endorphins. Our bodies make these hormones which are natural opiates that carry hormonal messages of attachment and bonding (a scientific definition of love). This hormonal release helps to stimulate feelings of caring and forgiveness, and acts as a natural painkiller. Endorphins create a positive state of mind and boost optimism, self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.

Blood and major organs get a boost of oxygen, give us a boost of energy. Lloyd (Journal of General Psychology, 1983) showed that laughter is a combination of deep inhalation and full exhalation, inspiring excellent ventilation, wonderful rest and profound release. Increased circulation helps flush the organs of waste products, helping us to operate at peak performance.

Our lymphatic system is massaged and our immune systems boosted. Because our lymphatic system has no physical pump, laughter causes an “internal jogging” that helps to massage the internal organs and promotes circulation to the digestive and lymphatic systems; helping to increase the cleansing movement of lymph and ease digestion and elimination.

Strengthens the immune system. The breath deepens during laughter, which also increases lymphatic flow, a natural way to boost the immune system with fast increases in levels of anti-viral and anti-infection cells (including “natural-killer” cells which help fight illness and disease). Laughter also increases the levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), to help protect us from viral infections such as coughs and colds. Immune, digestive and sexual systems that are switched off by stress can be re-activated with the help of healthy laughter.

Promotes cardio-vascular health. During and following a good laugh, blood pressure drops and pulse rate drops-and has been shown to stay reduced for up to 45 minutes.

Depression is lifted (even chronic depression)

Anti-aging formula. Researchers claim that the facial exercise of laughter helps to firm and tone facial muscles, which can help to reduce wrinkles and sagging, making you look and or feel younger! Laughter is a fun and easy way to exercise and anyone can do it.

Emotional Cleansing. As you laugh heartily, emotions can flow freely, and blocked, stuck negative emotions that are stored inside can have an avenue for release. That’s why a good laugh can also lead to a good cry-both of which help to cleanse the body of stress and physical and emotional pain.

Dr. William Fry of Stanford University Medical School compares laughter to physical exercise-like belly jogging. In addition to all the other benefits, while enjoying a good laugh, your lung capacity improves, internal organs get a massage, memory and alertness increases, and the muscles of your chest and abdomen get a work out. Dr. Fry tells us that laughing 100-200 times per day is the cardiovascular equivalent of rowing for 10 minutes.

I think that’s why people love to watch the old comedy shows, like I Love Lucy, Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Carol Burnett Show, and so many others: because they were fun, often funnier than all of today’s comedy shows put together. Without swear words, without sex, without meanness, these old shows are just plain fun to watch. They give us permission to laugh. We watch them because they are silly and they help to put us into touch with the kid that lives within us all. Maybe that’s why the movie “Big” (starring Tom Hanks), was such a hit with the adults. We all want to be grown up, but yet we all crave retaining the magic of the little kid who lives inside each of us. What a blessing it would be to see the fun in life through the wide-eyed wonder of a child. People crave fun; inherently we want it, because deep down, we want to laugh-to laugh so hard we nearly pee our pants. We want to enjoy life and giggle so hard that tears stream down our faces! And what’s the one part of the body that hurts so good when we laugh really hard? It’s our core, the solar plexus-the place where we store our power. The silly side is the side of our psyche that gets tickled by life. The need to be silly and to laugh and to play is an essential part of being human; and doing this helps feed our need for peace. Allowing yourself to relax and have fun lets your spirit soar!

Allowing yourself the freedom to laugh and be silly lets your “inner child” out to play, not in a childish sense, but in a childlike sense. A sense of humor can connect your serious side with the alchemy of your “magical child.” Seeing the joy of life through the eyes of a free spirit and a sense of humor can help you to easily see the lighter and the brighter side of living. One way to learn the art of playfulness is to observe a child. A child sees life as it is, not by how society defines it. To be childlike is to explore, and be open to the moment, to see the richness in the simple things. How many times has a child reached past an expensive gift, just to play with the box?

Life may be a serious gift, but it can be wrapped in joy. So if you just want to sit and play with the packaging once in a while, let yourself! If you won’t let yourself, don’t be surprised if what’s inside doesn’t seem as satisfying as it should be. The body, mind and spiritual benefits of laughter are now hitting the research books, but it’s something we’ve known all along.

As a Yoga teacher, one of the most flattering comments I had came from a student who said that by coming to my classes, she was able to release her “pent-up humor!” Perhaps the yoga word, Namaste could also be interpreted as, “the humor within me bows to the humor within you!”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could replace all the guns in the world with squirt guns-loaded with Kool-Aid? Wouldn’t it be fun to switch all the bombs dropping in the world with white boxes filled with jelly-filled donuts? And every time a punch was thrown in anger, the fist turned into chocolate pudding and a kissing sound was heard! Or how about every time a yell was bellowed it turned into laughter instead? Wouldn’t it be great?

So why don’t you put on that clown nose, come over to the silly side, and have a good laugh? It’s a lot more fun over here-and you’ll live longer too!

By Cindy Gray

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