Issue: 2016-04-28, PHOTO: Denis Yakushevich
Laughter Exercise “Electric Shock,” during a session training Laughter Yoga leaders
It is well-known that laughter is the best medicine. However, do we laugh enough in a normal life to get any benefit?
Scientists say to get benefits from laughing one has to laugh 10 minutes continuously. Usually, life rarely provides us with such an opportunity. Also, one may be depressed. What to do then?
Medical professionals did not take laughter seriously until its miraculous effect was accidentally revealed. In the middle of the 1970’s, Norman Cousins, editor of the Saturday Review, was diagnosed with a painful, life-threatening disease affecting the spine and joints. After doctors gave him little chance of recovery, he developed his own plan of treatment and finally was cured. His miraculous medicine was watching comedies and laughing.
In those days, he documented many interesting findings of the effects of laughing which later were proved by researchers. Scientists found that active and continuous laughter boosts the immune system, stimulates the heart and lungs, reduces stress and even helps with social bonds and relationships.
However, the humour-based therapy had its limitation when put into practice. In 1995, Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from India, was inspired by reports about the effects of laughter therapy to encourage his patients to gather together in a park and laugh every day. To make themselves laugh they used jokes and funny stories. On the first day there were five participants but after a couple of days, the number of people willing to laugh was 50.
Then Dr. Kataria came to understand there were some limitations of this humour-based approach. For example, the number of jokes and stories were limited, some of these were not funny for everyone, and in one instance, a participant felt insulted by a joke and left the session.
Dr. Kataria requested participants give him a day to find a way so that they could continue laughing. He was contemplating and reading the entire night. While studying one piece of research he got important insight: we do not need humour to laugh. The research said that the human body can not differentiate between real and artificial laughter and therefore even simulated laughing gives the same benefits.
He then explained his new idea to participants in the morning. They started their session with simulated laughter and then Dr. Kataria made one more discovery: in a few minutes, the fake laughter turned to real laughter. It was contagious laughing for no reason in a setting where every participant felt comfortable and secure. With time, Dr. Kataria developed an entire system helping people to laugh for no reason.