Laughter has long been said to be the best medicine. In the 1970's, Norman Cousins popularized the notion with his seminal book, Anatomy of an Illness in which he extolled the virtues of laughter vis-a-vis improved health and well-being.
Through scientific research, it has now been proven beyond a doubt that laughter can actually help to heal the body. Laughter has many beneficial effects, including but not limited to improved lung capacity and oxygenation, lowered blood pressure, increased immune function, decreased levels of stress hormones, increased levels of beneficial hormones such a dopamine, an improved sense of well-being, improved cardiovascular tone, and improved muscle tone. Even simply smiling can improve one's health, but laughter has been shown to be significantly more effective due to its robustly physical nature.
Further research has actually demonstrated quite clearly that your body cannot actually tell the difference between "authentic" laughter and "fake" laughter, thus you can realize the same benefits even if you have nothing to actually laugh about!
Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor in Mumbai (Bombay), India, created and founded Laughter Yoga in 1995 based on the premise that anyone can laugh at any time for no reason at all. Together with his wife (a yoga teacher), Dr. Kataria developed a system of yogic breathing, clapping, movement and laughter exercises that elicit laughter in a group setting. Beginning in a Bombay park in 1995 with only four willing yet skeptical participants, there are now more than 6000 Laughter Yoga clubs in over 60 countries worldwide.
Laughter Yoga has been covered by media outlets around the world, including a visit to India by John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) to investigate Dr. Kataria's work.
Studies have shown that the effects of stress take a devastating toll on the human body. Deecreased immune function, increased levels of stress hormones like cortisol, and decreased oxygenation can all reap a sorrowful harvest on the physiology of homo sapiens. We live in a complicated world, and laughter is a inexpensive and portable stress reduction tool that so many of us---myself included---often forget to utilize.
Children laugh an average of 400 times per day, whereas adults tend to laugh approximately 15 times per day. As we age, we lose our sense of the absurd, and we lose the ability to see humor in the stressors of everyday life. Cultivating laughter for no reason is a relatively easy practice that, with time, can bring many rewards and benefits.
If you would like to find a laughter yoga club near you, please visit Laughter Yoga's international website and search for clubs in your area. If you would like some homework, try laughing by yourself for 30-60 seconds every day, whether in front of the bathroom mirror, in the shower, or perhaps in the car while stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic. You can also simply visit YouTube and type "Laughter Yoga" in the search bar and watch several videos about Laughter Yoga, or type in "laughing baby" and simply delight in the natural laughter of children, unencumbered by the cares of the world.
Laughter truly is the best medicine, and as Dr. Kataria says, it is also a vehicle for world peace. If everyone was laughing rather than fighting, who would have time for war?