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Is laughter truly the best medicine?

    Finally something fun is good for us. A few minutes a day of deep belly laughs can reduce stress, help keep our lungs healthy, burn calories, brighten our mood, reduce pain, and provide increased efficiency of our internal organs.  Studies have also shown laughter to help lower blood sugar and improve bronchitis and asthma.  If you want to double your heart rate you can either laugh for 20 seconds or exercise on a rowing machine for three minutes. To receive all those healthy benefits I was interested in starting a laughter practice. I heard about laughter clubs, where people come together simply to laugh without jokes or humor.  In these clubs people laugh out loud and act playful just for the joy and health of it. Since there aren’t any laughter clubs in the St. Cloud area I had to practice a solo laughter program.  However, laughing hysterically all by one’s self is not very much fun.  The looks from my family alone were enough to stop me dead in my tracks. Then, I thought I would attend a laughter leader training seminar with the idea of starting my own laughter club. The training was a hoot.  I laughed out loud from Friday evening until late Sunday afternoon.  The only time I wasn’t laughing was when I was sleeping and I slept well.  We learned that the increased oxygen levels received from laughter aid sleep.  I certainly found that to be true because even though I slept in a hotel room and was away from my family, two things that usually disrupt my sleep, I slept like a baby. Therapeutic laughter was born out of necessity.  Norman Cousins was suffering from a very serious illness, which has a name as long as the alphabet, the illness was very painful, and there was no treatment.  Doctors focused on managing his pain, and he was given the maximum daily doses of aspirin and sleeping pills.  During his illness Cousins discovered that 10 minutes of laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. Cousins watched Marx Brothers films and read humorous books. He laughed as much as he could and claimed that the laughing helped ease his pain enough that he was able to discontinue the use of the aspirin and the sleeping pills.  His claims were heavily criticized by the medical community. Cousins stuck by his claims, and in 1979, he wrote a book called, Anatomy of an Illness which told of his claims and described his experience.  The laughter research of today supports the claims and experience of Norman Cousins. Dr. Kataria in Mumbai, India, is the founder of laughter clubs and Laughter Yoga.  He was writing an article about laughter for a health journal and had an idea to start a laughter club.  One morning he went to the park and persuaded four people to laugh with him.  They kept meeting and telling each other jokes and funny stories to get laughing.  Soon, the jokes and stories were getting distasteful and the group almost disbanded.  Kataria then asked the group to keep good eye contact and “fake” their laughter.  Because laughter is so infectious the group learned it didn’t take long until they were laughing for real.  They also learned the body doesn’t know the difference between “fake” or real laughter; the benefits are the same for both. The Laughter Club in Mumbai grew and Kataria taught others to lead laughter clubs.  Today there are approximately 10,000 laughter clubs in over 70 countries. The laughter leader organizes and keeps the structure of the sessions. The rest of the group can just follow along and enjoy.  One does have to let go of  inhibitions but that’s the beauty of the group, you are all in it together.  No one is there to pass judgment.  Group participants give each other permission to laugh out loud and to be playful.  Laughter clubs are free (sometimes small donations are requested to help cover rent or supplies), fun, and good for your health.  How many things in life can you say that about? Laughter exercise is like play plus laughter-my kind of exercise!  We did big laughter, shy laughter, airplane laughter, parade queen laughter, cell phone laughter, conga line laughter and many others. Before we began our laughter exercises we learned Laughter Yoga’s three simple rules:  (1) Laugh responsibly- Laughter Yoga should never hurt, so if something being prompted bothers your body you are free to make adjustments.  (2) No talking-I was worried about this one.  It’s in my nature to make little jokes, especially to ease tension, but talking is a cognitive activity and we learned that we want to avoid thinking and just laugh. (3) Have fun-Okay that was easy. Incidentally, don’t let the word yoga scare you.  In Laughter Yoga the yoga aspect is just yoga breathing or deep breathing. Toward the end of the session I was really feeling good, and we were all instructed to sit down so we could begin laughter meditation.  I was a little worried now, but it turns out laughter meditation is just laughing as long as the group can without prompts, talking or chants.  We sat in a circle and threw squish balls at each other.  We started with fake laughter, but it didn’t take long until we were howling with genuine, deep belly laughs and throwing those balls at each other like schoolchildren.  A squish ball landed in someone’s water cup, and we threw the ball around wet.  That really got people laughing even harder than before. We ended the session with guided relaxation.  I felt relaxed and rejuvenated at the same time.  Then we enjoyed some social time with chocolate.  Did you know they make chocolate wine?  Wow, laughter, chocolate and wine, “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things,” ha, ha, ha. I’m going to remember that the next time the, “dog bites and the bee stings and I’m felling sad.” ha, ha, ha. All kidding aside, the benefits of Laughter Yoga are amazing.  Jody Ross our laughter teacher and founder of one the largest Laughter Yoga clubs in the U.S. (400-plus members are on her “Meetup” webpage) can attest to that.  Ross was on disability and suffered for 17 years from fibromyalgia and lower back pain.  One day while seeking treatment at the Mayo Clinic she happened upon a Laughter Yoga session.  She felt so much better after the session she decided to start a daily laughter practice and eventually she became a laughter leader.  Ross stays very mindful to laugh every day.  She adds laughter to her everyday activities, brushing her teeth, taking a shower, driving her car.  Laughter combined with good self-care has provided Jody a quality of life she would not have thought possible. So, Jody started with laughing alone. The very thing I was trying to learn how to avoid in the first place.  The good news is now I have lots of new skills and ideas to make laughing alone simple and fun.  I still get some weird looks from my family but they are learning to live with it.  When I’m in my car alone I laugh like crazy.  If I’m stopped at a light and the person in the car next to me notices I just pretend I’m on my cell phone or gesture to the radio as if that’s what made me laugh. As for starting a laughter club, I am still thoughtfully considering that.  I want to be sure I can commit to the club for at least a year.  If I do start a club I will be sure and let our readers know.  In the meantime, if you would like to learn how to start a solo laughter routine or if you are interested in starting a laughter club yourself you can check out these laughter resources: (;;; or Put “Laughter Yoga” in the search bar and some very fun videos will come up.  Or look up Laughter Yoga/ Therapeutic Laughter at your local library or book store.

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