Growing evidence confirms suspicions that laughter is not only fun, but good for us! WebMD reports that laughter and moderate exercise share a host of healthful effects. According to Dr. Lee Berk's research, appetite hormones behave the same way after a good giggle as they do after a few workout reps. In science-speak: leptin goes down and grehlin goes up. Berk's volunteers watched stressful videos and hilarious videos (in no particular order) while their hormones were monitored. The results show comedy may be good for more than a chuckle.
Berk hopes his findings can assist patients who have lost their appetite. The elderly, handicapped, depressed and ill might benefit from repetitive laughter research. Overachievers may well enjoy a chortle during exercise for added benefit. Though a small study, Berk's work joins other science in supporting laughter as good medicine. More conclusive work may cause this writer to re-evaluate the association between 'cackles' and 'evil'. What can't hurt may heal!
Wanna come try laughter yoga with me?
The original study
Gita Fendelman is a laughter yoga instructor and member of the Tucson Laughter Club. It's been seven years since she was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and four since she started practicing laughter yoga. Since she started laughing, she's ditched conventional medication for what she calls her "inner pharmacy" – laughter. It's all she needs to feel healthy.
Though Fendelman had been practicing Hatha yoga since 1971, her illness hindered her ability to do her traditional practice. "I heard of laughter yoga, and I figured I could still laugh," she said. She also remarked that laughter can improve many disorders aside from Parkinson's such as depression, chronic pain, sleep disorders, diabetes and arthritis. Fendelman insists that the only side effects are good ones – like when you just can't stop laughing.
Once again, scientist have found that laughter can lower blood pressure and prevent hypertension. Well, they at least observed an 'association' between the two. The exciting part of the study, is that the Japanese researchers brought in a bunch of laughter yogis to instigate the laughing under investigation. They worked with music therapists as well, and found that the groups participating in laughing and music not only lowered their blood pressure, but were more likely to be motivated to exercise.
Though the study requires more scrutiny, one Dr. John Ciccone, a preventive cardiologist at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in West Orange, N.J. proposed that relaxation techniques such as laughter yoga and music therapy are "not outside the mainstream anymore… I think a lot of what was considered alternative is no longer alternative." Here I come General Hospital.
If you have been mindful of your stress levels this month, well done. April is National Stress Awareness Month and according to the Society for Vascular Surgery, laughter is a key function in reducing stress and hypertension. Fortunately, April is also National Humor Month. You may have never heard of either holiday, but they are easy enough to celebrate. The two go hand in hand and it's as simple as laughing off your stress. Attending my laughter yoga class is a great way to start.
Stress greatly impacts blood pressure, which can lead to high blood pressure (hypertension), and eventually, cardiovascular disease. On the contrary, Dr. Vivienne Halpern from the Society for Vascular Surgery stated that ???laughter reduces the level of stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, dopamine, and growth hormone) and increases the level of health-enhancing hormones (endorphins and neurotransmitters)… this can result in a stronger immune system and fewer physical effects of stress.??? So heed the advice of April's healthy holidays and get giggling. Maybe it'll help combat these nasty Spring colds that are going around.
The Yoga Mafia
Eighteen days ago I started taking a yoga course called the "40 Day Yoga Challenge: 40 Days to Personal Revolution." Basically, we're taking a yoga class every day for 40 days and slowly giving up our vices one by one through a series of torturous cranks of an external vice grip called "letting go" and a framework of weekly motivational classes. I took the course because I've been working so much on comedy and coaching… etc., that I've neglected to really give my physical health the attention it needs, and though I teach Laughter Yoga, I have never really taken yoga on, for reals. And it's becoming clearer and clearer that to take things to the next level, my body needs to be in as great shape as the rest of my life.
To tell you the truth, it's a little scary to walk into the yoga studio for the first time. I have an automatic resistance to the place because it's such a western manifestation of this ancient concept–the yoga clothes are expensive, the classes are not cheap either. It's not like India, so it must suck and be fake, right? My resistance rears its head first in me arriving to class six minutes late. The woman at the door smiles at me, but I'm imagining her yoga-cursing me in her head. What is a yoga curse? I dunno. Maybe it's like not saying "namaste" when you meet someone. Wah's melodic music is gently wafting through the otherwise silent studio and everyone has already got their butts in the air for downward dog. People have to get up and move their mats for me to fit in, I'm knocking water bottles over. I'm trying to hold the poses and falling onto my mat in a quivering heap of exhaustion. It's like a scene out of Mr. Bean. I'm "projecting" the yoga mafia in my headall over the place, thinking the teacher thinks I'm an undisciplined fink who doesn't respect the class. I'm thinking the skinny, bendy ladies in the class who all seem to be wearing giant diamond rings are all laughing at how un-bendy I am. And where are all the men in yoga? Not that I'm looking for one in particular, I'm just wondering where are they? Do they have their own yoga classes behind some secret wall? Are they all at the naked male yogaclasses in San Francisco, which actually exist?
Fast-forward 18 days. I'm actually arriving early to class, mat in hand, and something has shifted. I've taken to closing my eyes as much as possible–it's way easier to hold an asana when I'm not worrying about how much betterthe lady to my right is at it. It's actually kind of amazing, too–I'm actually able to DO yoga. The other day I got my ankle over my head. No kidding. I actually could do that before, so it didn't happen in two weeks. Reminds me of the joke: "Doc, my wrist!" "We'll have to operate." "But will I be able to play the piano afterward?" "Yes." "Wow, that's amazing, because I don't know how now!"
Want to watch my progress? I've been putting 30 second updates on Youtube about it every other day. Here's to fit spiritual condition and awesome abs.