Endorsement of the proverbial wisdom about laughter's health-giving properties arrives from Bombay, where a local doctor has instigated a trend for medicinal 'laughing clubs'. Dr Madan Kataria, who propounds a mirth-inducing posture technique derived from yoga, set up the Priydarshini Park laughing club in 1995. Since then, more than 100 laughing clubs have been rapidly established after his model right across India.
Members of the clubs meet in groups of up to 50, where after limbering up and breathing exercises, they egg each other on into extended bouts of hilarity.
Chhaganbhai Seth, 72, was told by his grandchildren that he was noticeably less grumpy after four months of laughing practice.
Practised gigglers learn how to produce a repertoire of different styles of laughing, and the health benefits claimed are numerous. As well as loosening inhibitions and boosting self-confidence, Dr Kataria says it is also good for breathing, as an aid to giving up smoking, and can alleviate hypertension, arthritis and migraine.
Summarised from a story by Sumit Sharma, entitled 'Stressed? Inhibited? Grumpy? Join the (Laughing) Club, Indians Say', in the Wall Street Journal (Dec 9th '96) monitored for the Institute by Roger Knights.
Update on laughter therapy from an article by Tony Allen-Mills in the Sunday Times (Jan 3rd '99).
In 1998 Kataria organised a World Laughter Day at the Bombay Racetrack and 10,000 people turned up. "We all had a jolly good laugh," he said. While he has been formalising his laughter techniques, American research has shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, and boosts immune functions. It also triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and fosters general spiritual sunniness. All this has encouraged American doctors to prescribe laughter to gloomy patients.
A new film, Patch Adams stars Robin Williams as a doctor who makes cancer patients laugh. "It sure as heck helps to have movies like this, " said Robert Cicco of the American Association for Therapeutic Humour. One Pittsburgh hospital provides a 24-hour television channel called Humour Helps Healing, and humour therapists have formed the Carolina Humour and Healing Association (HaHa). Hospitals all over America are studying 'humour intervention' programmes - some including Kataria's exercises.
Recent news on laughter therapy
Summarised from an article by Catherine Kalamis, entitled 'Laugh your way to health', in Choice magazine (March 2001).
The health benefits of laughter continue to be added to by those in the know. Robert Holden, who founded the Happiness Project in Oxford, believes that the physical act of laughing is akin to 'stationary jogging' or 'internal aerobics'. After years of running workshops and forums devoted to all aspects of happiness and joy, Robert Holden has come to realise just what a powerful instrument of healing laughter can be. A ten-minute bout of laughing can have the following effects:
- as the person laughs, carbon dioxide is driven out of the body to be replaced by oxygen-rich air, providing physical and mental freshness
- it can produce anti-inflammatory agents which can aid back pain or arthritis
- it encourages muscles to relax, and exercises muscles all over the body, from the scalp to the legs
- it reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone
- it is also thought that laughter may possibly aid immune system responses, although the evidence for that is primarily anecdotal
- it exercises facial muscles to prevent sagging
- it boosts the production of 'feel-good' endorphin hormones
This information, and much more, can be found in Shift Happens, Mr Holden's book. That is available from the Happiness Project, as is The Laughter Album , a thirty-minute compilation tape of laughter
from people of all ages which can be used to reduce stress or as a pick-me-up when feeling down.
The Happiness Project can be contacted at Elms Court, Chapel Way, Oxford, OX2 9LP (tel: 01865 248825)
For information about laughing clubs in the UK, as set up by Dr Madan Kataria, e-mail email@example.com,
or phone 01242 255991.
For other related articles in the Global Ideas Bank, see Humour therapy , Laughter - a help in coping with Alzheimers , and The Wellness Show (Patch Adams) .