It’s called Laughter Yoga, and it is, undeniably, a joke. Created by Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian physician in 1995, Laughter Yoga encompasses breathing techniques, stretching, and laughter as forms of exercise. The original idea—bringing a group of strangers together to have a good chuckle—has expanded into multiple, world-wide “laughter clubs.” These clubs, overseen by The Laughter Yoga Institute, claim that laughing, genuine or not, can “enhance the immune system, relieve stress, and reduce pain.”
Laughter and its effects on the body has been the topic of numerous research studies over the years. The latest, a 2014 study out of Loma Linda University in California, reports that laughter in older adults can increase short-term memory recall. Dr. Michael Miller, the University of Maryland Medical Center’s director of Preventative Cardiology, led another study in 2009 that showed laughter may protect against heart disease. Even the Mayo Clinic recommends practicing your sense of humor in order to take advantage of the short- and long-term advantages of laughing: smoothing tension, increasing endorphins, and improving your own mood.
The prescription for a good laugh centers on releasing endorphins in the brain, which has been linked primarily to pain resistance. Similarly to a “runner’s high,” laughter has also been shown to release these feel-good chemicals. Reduced cortisol levels in the body, the hormone related to stress, is also shown to be related to laughing.
Has there been irrefutable research linking laughing to preventing diseases? No, but perhaps Dr. Kataria was indeed onto something. In a world that can stress us out, break us down, and kick us around, maybe helping ourselves up with a good splitting of the sides can complement our other efforts to stay healthy. As in any case, here’s a few scientifically unsound resources to help get you started:
Melissa Harward is a young professional and graduate of University of Georgia. A hobbyist at heart, and a generalist at work, she’s at her happiest when she’s engaged in all things new: experiences, places, information, people (in that order). When she’s not digging into the worlds of healthcare and IT, she’s practicing her artisanal ice-cream-making skills, picking up a new hobby, or pretending that her doga listens to her while they’re running an agility course.