Many have heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine”, but many people do not know how true this is, and all of the good laughter does for our bodies.
In 2005, I was a mature student studying at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. I was in my late 20’s living in an apartment with an 18-year-old, my grandmother had passed away days after my departure from Ontario and I didn’t have any connections in Kamloops as I had left my family and my partner behind to travel across the country to complete my degree.
One rainy afternoon my roommate says to me – “Hey, I’m heading over to my friends house to laugh. Wanna come?” Not being one known to say no to an adventure my answer was “Sure! Let me grab my coat”. The decision to leave looming assignment deadlines behind, to not worry about the housework planned for the afternoon, to say yes to an invitation to a stranger’s house to laugh is one that has had a lasting impact on my life. Unbeknownst to me at the time, my roommate’s friend had recently become a Certified Laughter Leader with Dr. Kataria’s School of Laughter Yoga. That rainy afternoon started me on a path to also becoming a Certified Laughter Leader, learning about all of the benefits of laughter including the science and research associated with the topic.
For some of you this may be the first time you have heard of Laughter Yoga. For others, you may be well versed in it. And, maybe you have even attended a session, or are a leader yourself! Either way, it’s best to read on.
Laughter Yoga – the Coles Notes Version
The concept of Laughter Yoga was popularized in the mid 1990’s in Mumbai, India. While working on an article about laughter for a health journal, Dr. Madan Kataria field tested the impacts of laughter. It started off with people joining together to tell funny jokes or stories to cause the laughter. It wasn’t long before the stories and jokes were not found to be funny by all attendees, and this sparked some additional research by Dr. Kataria. The key finding in this research was that our bodies cannot differentiate between genuine laughter and simulated laughter. Whether we are laughing because we find something funny or we are laughing for no reason at all, our bodies reap the same benefits. This key finding was where the concept of Laughter Yoga was born. A Laughter Yoga session involves engaging participants in a variety laughter exercises and intermixed with deep beathing techniques, often seen in yoga practices.
The Science of Laughter
If you have seen the 1998 film “Patch Adams”, you have been introduced to some of the science of laughter, perhaps without even realizing it. Dr. Adams is an example of the large number of individuals who have dedicated research on the topic of laughter and the benefits of it. Some notable examples of other research findings include:
- Dr. William Fry from Stanford University found that 20 seconds of intense laughter (even if faked) can double the heart rate for 3-5 minutes, something accomplished through 3 minutes of strenuous rowing
- While dealing with their own illness, American journalist Norman Cousins discovered that 10 minutes of belly laughter provided at least 2 hours of pain free sleep
- Dr Lee Burk and team at Loma Linda University found that laughter shuts down the release of stress hormones like cortisol, but also triggers the release of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine
The Benefits of Laughter
If you have ever been lucky enough to laugh so hard your belly hurts, the comparison to rowing outlined above may not be surprising. Laughter has so many physical and psychological benefits including:
- Increases endorphins
- Increases heart rate
- Increases circulation
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases blood oxygen levels
- Increases rapport
- Increases communication
- Decreases anxiety and tension
- Facilitates learning
- Diffuses anger
The Benefits of Laughter in the Workplace
Many of the benefits of laughter outside of the workplace transition well to benefits inside the workplace. Laughter in the workplace can:
- Reduce stress
- Increase creativity
- Increase connection and rapport between employees
- Improve mental awareness
How to Add Laughter in the Workplace
As we have learned, we don’t need a reason to laugh. Anyone can do it AND reap the benefits. While everyone will have a different comfort level engaging with laughter, there are some easy ways you can incorporate it into the culture of your business.
- Make it a habit – start daily meetings with 15 seconds of simulated laughter
- Encourage it – provide a resource library with books and articles on laughter or links to online resources
- Be playful – introduce a “silly sock” or “fun hair” day
- Celebrate – World Laughter Day occurs the first Sunday in May, plan an event at your workplace to celebrate it
Laughter is something that everyone can do. Laughter can transcend language barriers, it can bring people together, it can make you feel better, force you to step into the present moment, reduce your stress level and leave you feeling refreshed and energized. The next time you find yourself in a mid afternoon slump I invite you to take a deep breath, focus your energy, and let out a big, deep, belly bursting laugh. Until you try it, you never know how good it may make you feel.
About Me, the Author
As a bright side looker and self-proclaimed optimist, I was once described as being intoxicated at living life to its fullest. I am a Certified Laughter Leader and have facilitated workshops at special events and conferences for numerous organizations and corporations across the province. Although I recognize that some days are better than others, I truly believe in the positive impact smiles and laughter can possess and am passionate about sharing that knowledge and outlook with others.
Project Coordinator | Excellence in Manufacturing Consortium
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