Laughter has long been known to lift the spirits but when was the last time you experienced a really deep, sustained belly laugh that made both your cheeks and your abdominal muscles ache to leave you feeling utterly amazing on every level? Maybe it was a comedy show - or a funny film at the cinema? Or maybe you can't remember...
But what if we could learn to laugh unconditionally - for no other reason than to make us feel good and to boost our health and our happiness?
Well Laughter Yoga does exactly this!
Laughter Yoga is a unique form of exercise that gives us a complete, holistic workout - influencing our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Based on the fundamental belief that anyone can laugh for no reason - laughter yoga is about unconditional laughter - we don't need to wait for a trigger of humour, comedy or jokes to "make" us laugh. If we are serious about reducing stress, improving our health and boosting our happiness, we each need to take responsibility for our laughter and CHOOSE to laugh more, smile more, play more and be open to having fun and embracing positivity; laughter yoga enables and empowers us to do all these things and, with regular practise and commitment, we not only boost our health and our happiness but we also start to rewire our brain, making us more positive, more resilient and happier.
A medical Doctor - Dr Madan Kataria along with his wife Madhuri - started Laughter Yoga in India in March 1995. Laughter Clubs (featured on the BBC2's The Real Marigold Hotel in February 2016) are growing in popularity across the world as a way for people to manage stress and to boost both their health and happiness and to come together and boost social connection and a sense of community.
There are now thousands of Laughter Clubs across the globe and Laughter For Health runs one of the most successful in the UK - Edinburgh Laughter Club (the only laughter club in the UK to have been funded by the NHS for a three year project evaluating the impact of regularly attending a laughter club on the wellbeing of carers).
Laughter has a way of instantly connecting people and is one of the most basic and fundamental ways in which we communicate as human beings. But more than that - laughter can increase confidence, self-esteem, creativity, positivity and resilience, bringing positive changes to all aspects of our lives. A number of my laughter club regulars have embraced huge positive changes in their lives - e.g. losing weight, returning to work after years of illness and/or depression; coping with serious health diagnosis and grief; coping with the isolation and stress of being a full time carer.
When it comes to managing our mental health - Laughter Yoga has a much more important role to play than just making us feel good.
In terms of depression, there has been research claiming that "inflammation" may be the cause - the resultant hormonal and chemical imbalances mean the body does not function properly. Turhan Canli of Stony Brook University in New York talks about reconceptualizing major depressive disorder as an infectious disease (http://biolmoodanxietydisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2045-5380-4-10)
So what can we do?
Well diet and nutrition is a very good place to start since 90% of our serotonin is actually produced in our gut; what we put into our body influences our mental health just as much as our physical health and taking supplements like Omega 3 and Turmeric can help to reduce inflammation (in conjunction with a healthy, balanced diet and lifestyle).
But laughter can play a hugely important role as well.
Laughter not only makes us feel good by releasing endorphins (our "happy chemicals" - our natural anti-depressants and pain-killers) but laughter also strengthens our heart (reducing the risk of cardio-vascular disease and stroke), boosts our lung capacity and breathing, and deep, hearty belly laughter also burns calories and helps tone muscles!
Recent scientific research shows that belly laughter is as effective at widening arteries and lowering blood pressure as taking statins and going jogging (ref. Dr Michael Miller, Centre of Cardiovascular Health, University of Maryland).
However, laughter also has a major role to play with the Lymphatic System (our body's natural waste removal system) and our Immune System since the endorphins we release also act as anti-inflammatories.
The lymphatic system does not have its own "pump" (unlike the cardiovascular system which has the heart) and relies on body movement, exercise and stimulation to get the lymphatic flow moving and the detoxification process working to reduce inflammation.
While we can use things like body-brushing, massage and even gentle stroking to boost the movement of lymph, laughter can also be incredibly effective to boost the detox process and reduce inflammation in the body.
The lymph movement not only stimulates the removal of toxins but movement through specific glands in the body (lymph nodes) also stimulates the production of lymphocytes, which are fundamental to a strong, healthy immune system.
So laughter not only makes us feel amazing - it also helps our bodies to work more efficiently and to reduce inflammation which can help to improve depression and anxiety.
My laughter journey from ill-health and a life on benefits after losing my job to running my own laughter business, has now evolved to running "Laughter Cleanse" - first in the world to combine a juice cleanse and raw food detox retreat with the healing benefits of laughter - it just makes so much sense!
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