When was the last time you laughed until you cried? You probably can’t remember, but know that it was really silly. It’s the simplest and cheapest stress management there is, no training necessary.
All humans start life with the ability to laugh, regardless of race, colour or creed. Apes, dogs and even rats have been found to laugh, though a little differently to humans. All of which means that laughter is not in the least bit unusual; it’s a wide-spread characteristic found throughout the animal kingdom that denotes play and pleasure.
So, why do we weird humans have to invent a ‘therapy’ that allows us to laugh out loud? Because we’ve let life become so serious and stressful that there’s no longer any time to have a good old fashioned belly laugh. Or even a bit of a giggle. That is, until it became official that laughter is OK.
What Is Laughter Therapy?
As the name suggests, it’s laughing in order to get a particular result, usually to make us feel better in some way. For starters, it relieves pain, reduces blood pressure and decreases stress.
In 1964, Norman Cousins documented the power of laughter in healing. After being diagnosed with a painful chronic condition, and unhappy with the treatment, he began his own treatment, reading and watching anything that made him laugh. It worked, and he regained his health.
He later wrote a book about this extraordinary experience which he called Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins called laughter ‘internal jogging, an exercise to keep us in emotional shape’. We spend a lot of time worrying about physical shape, and too little on what’s now being recognized as an important component of our wellbeing.
Types of Laughter Therapy
- Laughter yoga - no jokes or props, simply making the noise of laughter until finally it does become funny
- Laughter groups - jokes, funny props and videos that we laugh at
- Clown doctors - visit children in hospital
The end result of all of them is that participants laugh a lot, but one type sometimes appeals more than others. When laughter is spontaneous, and in response to something we think funny such as a joke, we get a better payoff. Working out the joke not only increases the happy hormones and endorphins streaming through our bodies, but is a sort of weight-lifting for the brain.
It doesn’t really matter how or why you laugh since the mind responds the same way, whether laughter is real or fake. So, when you feel less than fantastic, you can just go and stand in front of the mirror and smile idiotically at yourself. Keep doing it, and eventually, you’ll feel better.
Laughter Yoga Groups
In this type of group, people come together with no props, and nothing to watch or hear. They simply make the noise of laughter until finally, it generates its’ own hilarity. It can be a bit intimidating to start, but you quickly get over it as you begin to laugh. Laughing in a group is contagious, and it won’t be long before you are chortling and guffawing with everyone else. The sessions include breathing, ho-ho-ho-ing, and producing different laughs such as: one metre, silent, cocktail and lion.
These groups are harder to find, but laughter groups can be used in many situations including pain management and weight loss, and encourages participants to take part, using funny toys, jokes and fancy clothes. Participants learn how to laugh at themselves and to treat life less seriously as a way to reduce stress.
Probably the most important and useful form of laughter therapy. Sick kids in hospital are ‘treated’ with ‘doses of fun’ to help them deal with fear, pain and anxiety. All sorts of props are used, and often the frightening hospital equipment and procedures are parodied. Clown doctors have professional training with the Humour Foundation in order to offer high level skills in the midst of serious hospitals and illness.
Hearty laughter is a fabulous physical workout. It uses most of your body, and provides good exercise for heart and lungs. It’s a great way to break down barriers; by the end of a session of laughter everyone is relaxed and good humoured, so communication and problem solving can be smoother.
What about skipping morning tea, and opting for a laugh instead. You’ll save a few hundred kilojoules (15 minutes laughing is about equal to a bar of chocolate), be much less stressed and you might even make some new friends.