Researchers at Osaka University in Japan assigned 79 people between the ages of 40 and 74 to one of three groups. Thirty-two were assigned to a music group where they listened to music and sang with music therapists. Thirty participants participated in laughter yoga, which combines breathing exercises with laughter stimulated through playful eye contact, plus watched a traditional Japanese comedy show called Rakugo. Each session took place for one hour twice a week for three months. The remaining 17 were controls who neither listened to music nor participated in the laughter sessions.
Aim of the research: To investigate the effects of laughter therapy on depression, cognitive function, quality of life, and sleep of the elderly in a community.
Methods: Between July and September 2007, the total study sample consisted of 109 subjects aged over 65 divided into two groups; 48 subjects in the laughter therapy group and 61 subjects in the control group. The subjects in the laughter therapy group underwent laughter therapy four times over 1 month. We compared Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS), Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), Short-Form Health Survey-36 (SF-36), Insomnia Severity Index (ISI) and Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) between the two groups before and after laughter therapy.
Conclusion: Laughter therapy is considered to be useful, cost-effective and easily accessible intervention that has positive effects on depression, insomnia, and sleep quality in the elderly.
An hour of weekly laughter was good enough for Jung-Oak Lee, 64, to fight off depression that coincided with two years of chemotherapy to treat her colon cancer. Every Friday afternoon, she travels almost two hours to join about 100 other cancer patients and families in a packed hallway of Seoul National University Hospital, one of Korea’s largest, to learn how to guffaw.
Seeing and experiencing the healing and connecting power of Laughter Yoga, Chris Pollitt has started a project called ‘A Daily Laugh For You.’ The idea is to record laughter with one or more persons every day and post it on YouTube. According to Chris it is a great way to meet new people, share about Laughter Yoga, and spread joy. He wants to keep the project running to help as many people to laugh and learn about the positive effects of laughter.
Dr Topher Stephenson, who specializes in physical medicine and runs the spine program at Mercy in Sacramento, has also become something of an adherent to a trend in integrative medicine known as laughter yoga, which promises to do for the psyche what bikram yoga does for muscles.
So he tells the group members to gird for a brief session of mirth. He has them extend an imaginary string across their mouths and says to raise it a bit and laugh.
“OK, that was a nice and easy warm-up,” Stephenson said. “I don’t want to hear belly laughs yet. Just keep your teeth closed and do two more.”
“Now, I want you to really let it rip, OK?”
Laughter reigned. The whole vibe of the room changed from sorrow to joy, at least for a minute. Everyone was smiling and chuckling after Stephenson finished and dismissed the group.
“This has really helped me,” said Haynes, who is unable to work because of a chronic back condition. “And it’s fun to do.”
Sure, a good belly laugh or two might temporarily distract chronic pain patients. But, skeptics might ask, what good could it really do?
Research looking at the connection between mind and body suggests that repeated doses of laughter can indeed lead to positive physical changes. Building on the lay research by 1970s best-selling author Norman Cousins, who eased his autoimmune disease by watching Candid Camera episodes, doctors at Loma Linda University in Southern California have documented the effects of laughter in double-blind studies.
In a paper presented at a meeting of the American Physiological Society in April, they found that the hormones beta-endorphins (which elevate mood) and human growth hormone (which builds immunity) increased significantly in patients exposed to “mirthful laughter”.
Another study by the same doctors found that laughter reduced three key stress hormones – cortisol, epinephrine and dopac by 38 per cent to 70 per cent.
Stephenson was won over even before he became familiar with the scientific literature. In a break before starting medical school in the late 1990s, he attended clown college (Mooseburger University in Oklahoma) and graduated with honours. Using his alter ego, Bobo Doodlemeyer, Stephenson started a clown care unit at the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital.
Bobo usually stays incognito as Stephenson goes about his day-to-day practice dealing with back and neck-pain patients. But the laughter remains part of his prescription.
“I’ve found humor is a good tool,” Stephenson says. “There are a whole lot of people with chronic pain who haven’t laughed in a long time.
“When you get down to it, laughter promotes all kinds of good endorphins, which helps reduce pains and promotes deep breathing. A lot of these folks who are hurt just don’t breathe well. Their breathing patter is (shallow). Laughter gives you little squirts of dopamine, the feel-good reward chemical in the brain.”
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A study from psychologists at the universities of Kent and Liverpool has revealed that laughter increases altruism towards strangers, a finding which may have important implications for charities and other fundraising bodies.
The study, conducted by Professor Mark van Vugt, Charlie Hardy, Julie Stow and Professor Robin Dunbar (University of Liverpool), was designed to examine if laughter acts as a social lubricant by enhancing a sense of group identity among strangers.
A Japanese study suggests that laughter can alleviate allergies such as dermatitis, which causes inflammation of the skin. According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Kimata, H., Journal of the American Medical Association 2001 Feb 14; 285(6):738.), Dr. Hajime Kimata of Unitika Central Hospital, Japan, studied the effects of laughter on patients allergic to dust mites, cedar pollen and cat dander. The patients, 15 women and 11 men, were allergic to house dust mites and took no medication 72 hours before watching the film. After watching the movie, Kimata injected dust mite allergen into the skin of the patients to see if the movie had any effect on the size of their hives. He found a significant reduction in the size of their hives, an effect that lasted for two hours. There was no change in the size or the duration of their hives after the patients watched an 87-minute video featuring weather information.