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
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.
You and I both know how good it feels to really let go and laugh.
The science behind that feel-good feeling it isn???t all that complex. The human body releases endorphins in the act of laughter, and those endorphins relieve stress. It is a natural physiological response. Turns out, the body has no way of knowing if your laughter is genuine, or if you???re a big faker.
A study done way back in 2003 documented its participants' emotional state after 60 seconds of "real" laughter and then compared it to 60 seconds of "faked" laughter. Turns out that both kinds of laughter have the same affect on the body. Check it out: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/03/31/1048962698891.html
So?? If the human body has no way of knowing if the laughter is genuine you can reap all the same benefits by faking it. Fake laughter turns into real laughter in my Laughter Yoga class all the time. Go ahead, just try it.
Laughter yoga, it's not quite…
So a study of a couple hundred women undergoing IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) near Tel Aviv found that women entertained by professional Israeli clowns right after embryos were transferred to their wombs had more success in giving birth than those with no Israeli clowns.
The study, published in Fertility and Sterility, found that 36 percent of women with Israeli clowns became pregnant, as compared with the 20 percent of clown-free embryo transfer procedure. Not surprisingly, women conceiving the conventional way were found to have a much lower success rate with Israeli clowns in their room at the time of conception. I'm just saying…
Leader of the study, Dr. Friedler said he got the idea for the study because laughter is a "natural anti-stress mechanism."
Friedler, who is based at Assaf Harofeh Medical Centre in Zrifin, Israel, said,"Patients suffering from infertility undergoing IVF are incredibly stressed. So I thought that this intervention could be beneficial for them at the crucial moments after embryo transfer."
Friedler added that if studies at other centres back up his findings, fertility clinics elsewhere might try it too. I'm just hoping I'm fertile enough to keep the clowns out of my own uterine activities. Do you think clowns that speak Hebrew are funnier than French or English ones?
Did you know we've been laughing for 7 million years?
The Quarter Review of Biology recently published a study on laughter. There are two kinds. (Of course, Osho wrote about four kinds, so science is still lagging behind on this front…)
Thee first kind of laughter is a) spontaneous and b) stimulus-driven. The study says that just because someone is laughing with you, doesn???t mean that it is spontaneous or stimulus-driven, which is the natural kind of laugh that mirrors ape play, which arose around seven million years ago.
The second, ???dark side of laughter??? kind of laugh is strategic and sometimes can be cruel. "One type of laughter arises spontaneously from the perception of a certain class of events, while the other is used strategically in interaction to influence others or modulate one's own physiology," said Gervais, who is a researcher in the Evolutionary Studies Program at Binghamton University in New York. Here's where I read the article.
In laughter yoga, I aim for my laughter to always be the first kind of laughter. But I don't think this study gets at the whole picture. Laughter needs to be practiced to become part of one's life if it's been missing for a long time. That's why in laughter yoga, we encourage one another to laugh, through exercises designed to create that spontaneous first kind of laughter. Don't feel discouraged if it takes time to remember how to laugh spontaneously. It's still a practice for me. I'm even starting to laugh at standup comedy again after years of training myself to slap the table with a straight face and say in a deadpan tone, "That's funny." But it takes practice.
So come practice. Come take a laughter yoga class with me. Or come see a standup comedy show!