Dr. Gita Suraj Narayan, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Work and Community Development, University of Kwazulu-Natal (and a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher!) recently proved that Laughter is a powerful form of complementary Medicine through her research and a series of Community Outreach Projects.

Dr. Gita Suraj Narayan is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Work and Community Development, University of Kwazulu-Natal.

Dr. Gita Suraj Narayan is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Social Work and Community Development, University of Kwazulu-Natal.

Dr Suraj-Narayan was inspired by the founder of Laugher Yoga, Dr Madan Kataria, to carry out research exploring the Bio Psycho-Social Impact of Laughter Therapy on Stroke Patients and to empower rural communities using laughter yoga with cognitive restructuring as an alternate form of therapy.

The study, which commenced in September 2008 comprised 120 laughter therapy sessions using various laughter techniques, pranayama (deep yogic breathing exercises) and cognitive restructuring conducted on stroke patients between the ages of 40 to 90 in the Verulam Frail Care Community.

Initially, some of the stroke patients viewed laughter therapy with skepticism. However by their fourth session, they were more receptive to this form of therapy, said Dr Suraj-Narayan. Significant findings of the study included:

  • a reduction in post-stroke depression resulting from direct damage to emotional centres in the brain, compounded by frustration and difficulty adapting to new limitations. These included anxiety, panic attacks, flat effect (failure to express emotions) and apathy, often characterized by lethargy, irritability, sleep disturbances, lowered self esteem and withdrawal, and a reduction in stroke-related pain.
  • enhanced mobility and the ability to walk without walking aids.
  • endorphins released as a result of laughter helped in reducing the intensity of pain.
  • in some cases laughter therapy helped patients recover from cognitive deficits resulting from stroke including perceptual disorders, speech problems, and problems with attention and memory.
  • improved communication and relations between the patient and significant others.

“Stroke patients viewed laughter therapy as a safe medium to overcome their problems. They developed a zeal and enthusiasm to do things for themselves. For older stroke patients it had given them inner joy and offered them a renewed sense of purpose to live,” said Dr Suraj-Narayan.

Observing the positive effects laughter therapy has on stroke patients, Dr Suraj-Narayan said she attained “super-sensuous joy” and a sense of fulfillment knowing that this therapy made a profound difference in the lives of people who were vulnerable.

In another study last year, Dr Suraj-Narayan also conducted laughter yoga combined with cognitive restructuring with patients suffering from stress, sugar diabetics, asthma, depression and high blood pressure.

“After exposure to laughter therapy over a four-month period I found a reduction in stress levels, depression, sugar diabetes and blood pressure among some of the participants. Because laughter improves the lung capacity and oxygen levels in the blood some of the participants reported a reduced frequency of asthmatic attacks and in the use of nebulisers,” said Dr Suraj-Narayan.

The laughter exercises conducted by Dr Suraj-Narayan stimulated heart and blood circulation equivalent to any other standard aerobic exercise. According to Dr Suraj-Narayan a belly laugh is equivalent to “internal jogging.” Laughter provides a good cardiac conditioning especially for those who are unable to perform physical exercises.

“Laughter therapy may be used as a supplementary treatment to patients who are already on medication for their ailments. It should not be used as a substitute for medication,” said Dr Suraj-Narayan. She plans to develop an integrated model of laughter therapy incorporating individual, group and community development which can be used within the School of Social Work and Community Development and other related disciplines.

Dr Suraj-Narayan discovered laughter is an excellent medium to minimize the negative impacts of contemporary issues facing rural and urban communities. She has conducted several community outreach projects using laughter therapy aimed at breaking down the barriers of social isolation, discrimination, oppression and concomitant depression, as well as to expose people to a light-hearted but effective way of enhancing their sense of well-being and reducing stress and burnout.

She says laughter also encourages and empowers people to actively participate in their health care.

Read more at http://www.ukzn.ac.za/UKZNonline/V3/17/s16.html

PS: Dr. Gita Suraj Narayan told us she would present her research at a couple of conferences in Europe in 2010.


Where Is Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa?