By Rev SEIK PITOI
WHAT do you call someone who laughs to himself for no apparent reason?
I think we would all agree that sounds like a longlong, someone who is mentally unstable or insane!
But what if you heard there were groups of people meeting together purposely to have a good laugh – for no apparent reason at all.
No comedy, no jokes, no clowning around. Just laughing for nothing. Are they longlong?
There is a movement that is picking up all over the world that promotes laughter for health. These laughter groups, or laughter clubs as they are usually referred to, have leaders who are trained to lead such groups. Their catch cry is: ‘fake it till you make it!’ In other words, you may not feel like laughing, and it does feel weird at times – but when you ‘force’ yourself to laugh as you go through the motions, eventually your forced laugh becomes a real laugh. According to research, the body cannot tell the difference between a fake laugh and the real deal. It still releases endorphins and allows you to enjoy the health benefits of the ‘internal workout’ you are giving yourself.
But where and how did this movement begin? An Indian physician called Dr Madan Kataria, is credited to starting off this laughter revolution. This Allopathic Physician and ex-registrar at the Jaslok Hospital in Bombay, India, who serves in Internal Medicine and Cardiology, has thousands of people laughing their way to better health, more happiness and deeper friendships.
Dr Kataria developed a new technique of Laughter Therapy based on yoga called Laughter Yoga. He explains it in his own words: “In a nutshell, laughter yoga is a combination of self-induced laughter, yoga exercises, yoga breathing and stretching exercises. With a little bit of playfulness, deliberate laughter turns into real laughter. Our body produces a similar response to what we get from spontaneous laughter.”
He added, “The idea of a laughter club came to me in 1995 when I was writing an article for my health magazine. I remembered that an article called ‘Laughter, The Best Medicine,’ from Reader’s Digest had always fascinated me. So I delved into a study of laughter and its benefits.”’
During his research, Dr Kataria discovered a large amount of scientific literature on the benefits of laughter on the human mind and body: “I was very impressed by the American journalist Norman Cousins, whose book, Anatomy of an Illness, describes how he laughed his way out of an incurable disease of the spine – Ankylosing Spondylitis. Cousins said, ‘What was significant about the laughter was not just the fact that it provides internal exercise for a person, a form of jogging for the innards, but that it creates a mood in which the other positive emotions can be put to work, too.’”
So while Dr. Kataria was pacing the floor of his apartment one morning at 4:30 am, it hit him. “If laughter is so good, why not start a laughter club?”
Several hours later he tried out the idea with the regulars at his local park who initially reacted with, “Doc, are you ok?”, “Are you crazy?” He eventually motivated four of them to start laughing in a corner of the park. Others laughed at the concept and ridiculed the idea but were converted when the health benefits were explained. Attendance grew and the rest, as they say, is history. There are now hundreds of Laughter Clubs all over the world, including India, USA, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, France, Malaysia and Dubai.”
Since 1995, Dr Kataria has been spreading his message to kids at school, prisoners in jail, homes for the elderly, everyday workers, and anyone that wants to feel better in general and have more fun in life. According to his website, extensive research from all over the world has proven that laughter has a positive impact on various systems of the body. “Laughter helps to remove the negative effects of chronic stress, which is linked to the 6 leading causes of death. Laughter helps to boost the immune system, which is the master key for maintaining good health.”
In a recent interview, Dr Kataria explained a typical day in the laughter club. “Laughter yoga is a new concept of laughing in a group without taking help of jokes or any other comedy. We begin with warm-up exercises like clapping, ho ho ha ha ha chanting, followed by a variety of stimulated laughter exercises like greeting laughter, milkshake laughter, one meter laughter, lion laughter, etc. When we laugh in a group it turns into real laughter by making eye contact with other group members.”
He makes an interesting observation about the tendency of regular folk and their ability to laugh more than the intellectual and ‘important’ person. His upbringing in a run-of-the mill type family helped him see the pleasant side of life with lots of laughter. “I was born and brought up in the countryside with a farmer family. I observed that people in the countryside laugh for small things and when I became a doctor I found it much harder for educated and intellectual people to laugh. Their laughter comes more from their brain by making evaluations and judgment about what’s funny. While innocent hardworking people from the villages laugh from their heart like children.
“I could clearly see that I lost my capacity to laugh when I came to Mumbai and found myself lost among 14 million people. I find that more learned and intellectual people like psychologists, doctors, scientists, journalists, and CEO’s of companies find it very hard to laugh. In short, all mind-centred and intellectually inclined people laugh very little. For my doctor friends, initially some of them were sceptical. But as the laughter movement grew, it benefited many people with depression, anxiety, insomnia and a variety of other illnesses, then many doctors came to the laughter clubs and experienced laughter yoga. Now we have many doctors in our laughter clubs. Moreover they recommend their patients to join the laughter clubs.”
Interestingly, the concept of laughter is now being used in some hospitals who employ clowns to amuse the sick children and cheer them up. The concept was started by Dr Hunter Adams in America in the 1970s. He believed that patients in that critical time of being confined to a depressing place like the hospital need love and laughter. He started hospital clowning where red-nosed clowns with their famous baggy clothes do drama skits with dance moves that put a smile on the sick children’s and their caretakers’ faces. The program has a large success rate and has spread to many countries around the world. In fact, in Israel, it is offered as a paramedical course in which you can obtain a degree in hospital clowning. In an experiment with three groups of sick children prior to an operation, Israel researchers gave one group anti-anxiety pills, the second group got nothing, and the third group got 2 hospital clowns. The result was the clowns and the pills had the same effect. That proves the point for the use of hospital clowning to reduce the need for painkillers and anaesthesia and generally improve the condition of the patients.
Certified laugh leader, Lucy King says, “Laughter helps us unwind. It is free and can be done by anybody. Children laugh over 300 times in a day, while adults laugh about 15 times. What happened? Life happened! Life is tough, times are getting harder, and with the Coronavirus wreaking havoc around the world, there isn’t much to laugh about. But laugh we must if we are to maintain our health and sanity.”
I found some benefits of laughter that are interesting. For example, laughter reduces stress hormones such as Cortisol, while releasing endorphins that create feelings of joy and euphoria. Laughter also protects the heart and improves cardiovascular health, improves blood circulation, improves blood and sugar levels, boosts your immune system, burns calories, improves sleep, improves brain health, improves memory, and keeps you young (as 15 facial muscles get a workout when you laugh). Moreover, as a Christian, I again am blessed to see that all these studies confirm God’s word. The bible says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17: 22), while Neh 8: 10 says, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So with all that good stuff, why can’t we laugh a bit more?
Do we laugh a lot in PNG? I don’t like how some comedians get laughter by telling off-colour jokes. But genuine clean humour is great. What about starting a laughter club? Will it work?
Well, laughter club or no club, maybe we should all try to take ourselves less seriously, loosen up more often and have a good belly laugh. I’m sure we will find that laughter indeed is good medicine!
- Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer.