Laughter Therapy in the Fight against Depression

As mentioned in Part I, laughter produces endorphins, much like exercise. Endorphins function as painkillers, giving you the ability to push through grueling exercise sessions.  They can lead to feelings of euphoria and mimic opiates.  They serve the same function as drugs like codeine and morphine, reducing pain and stress.  As we mentioned, they’re produced in periods of high stress and strain.

‘Laughter Therapy?  You Must be Joking.’

Laughter therapy has developed as a way of facilitating these biochemicals.  They’re natural solutions, so the thinking goes, to problems commonly treated with anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication.  There is no danger of “addiction” to endorphins either, the critically important aspect of the method.

Therapy is available in group or individual sessions – these start with a warm-up followed by a range of activities designed to get you giggling. Laughter doesn’t come easily to everyone, but luckily the body can’t actually distinguish between real and fake laughter. So faking it has the same beneficial effect.

Dr Lee Berk of Loma University has built a canon of research on the effects of laughter-mitigated therapy:

In 1989, Berk studied the effects of laughter in 10 healthy males. Five experimental subjects watched an hour-long comedy while five control subjects didn’t. Blood samples taken from the 10 subjects revealed that cortisol (the hormone our body releases when under stress) in the experimental subjects had decreased more rapidly in comparison to the control group.

More marketable techniques have come through “laughter yoga,” developed and promoted by Dr. Madan Kataria as early as 1995.

The therapeutic effects of laughter have been clinically studied since the 70s, but Dr Madan Kataria – who developed laughter yoga in Mumbai – is credited with bringing laughter therapy into the mainstream. Kataria set up the first laughter club in 1995. There are now more than 5,000 laughter clubs worldwide.

Laughing is Contagious

Yoga is a “booming, multibillion-dollar business” for a reason.  It comes in so many forms: yogalates, yoga spinning, anti-gravity, yogaerobics, acroyoga.  The good doctor, you might suspect, is in a good mood.  His technique has caught on massively, combining trendy yoga courses with an indisputably good feeling.  The crux of the technique involves combining laughter with traditional yoga breathing techniques.

As one blogger at the New York Times said after trying out three different forms of modern Yoga:

Of the three, laughter yoga was my favorite, despite the fact there were no spinal twists or warrior poses or chaturangas . .  . it is related to yoga as we know it only in the mental and spiritual sense.

“HO, HO, HA, HA, HA,” Mr. Prakash said, loudly, beginning the first exercise. We all repeated: “HO, HO, HA, HA, HA. HO, HO, HA, HA, HA.”

There were about 20 of us walking around his office in a circle. I went to shake one woman’s hand, as instructed, when she showed me her cast. “I fractured my right wrist. HO, HO, HA, HA, HA.”

There was no trace of traditional humor: No jokes. No amusing stories. Just simple improvlike exercises meant to get the laughter rolling.

Dr. Robert Marchesani is mentioned in the article as a participating “laughing coach.”  If you read up on his biography, he’ll tell you his free-thinking attitude toward what he does:

I like to help people learn to hear themselves, to accept themselves and ultimately to laugh at themselves. This is not a place of arrival but is a process of continual discovery and rediscovery….

I believe laughter is the best medicine for mind, body and spirit and encourage it often! The research is mounting for its benefits!

I think we could all use a little lightening-up once in a while, even for the more serious personalities among us.  Sometimes, a break from work is more satisfying when it involves exercise or a good laugh.  This growing approach to therapy seems to embody the spirit of holistic medicine measured in the approval of scientific research.  If you want to go the natural way and have a good time at the same time, this is certainly the way to go.  The therapists will certainly be happy to see you.  Check out more info on where you can find laughter clubs in your area.

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