Perhaps few things feel as amazing as a good belly laugh — your head thrown back, eyes squinted shut with mirthful tears streaming down your cheeks, uproarious laughter coming straight from your belly in deep breaths that warm you all over. There’s no doubt that laughter feels good. Not only does laughter feel good, but it’s good for you. This article outlines the top 15 benefits of intentional laughter and provides tips for how you can get a healthy dose of laughter even when nothing seems funny.
Laughter Does a Body Good
The main physical health benefits of intentional laughter as demonstrated in research studies include: (1) exercises and relaxes muscles, (2) improves respiration, (3) stimulates circulation, (4) decreases stress hormones, (5) increases immune system’s defenses, (6) elevates pain threshold and tolerance, and (7) enhances mental functioning. Now I’ll go into detail about how laughter brings about these beneficial effects on the body.
A hearty laugh is good for the heart and lungs. Laughter increases your heart rate and oxygen levels, which both improve the functioning of blood vessels and blood circulation. The physical act of laughter moves the diaphragm up and down. Just by going through the motions of laughter, we engage in deep inhalation and a full exhalation, which inspires excellent circulation and respiration. Laughter exercises the lungs and chest muscles, and oxygenates the body by accelerating the exchange of residual air. Laughing can help reduce blood pressure and protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Laughter exercises the facial, chest, abdominal, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, cardiac, and skeletal muscles. Plus, muscles naturally relax after laughter. Laughter can even help you burn a few calories and tone your abs. When you laugh, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, similarly to when you engage in abdominal exercises. Some experts say laughter is a type of “internal jogging.”
Laughter relieves pain by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers. Thus, laughter elevates pain threshold and tolerance. By raising pain tolerance, laughter helps ease painful symptoms among those who suffer from chronic conditions.
Laughter boosts your immune system. We get sick a lot less the more we laugh. Laughter boosts immune system defenses by decreasing stress hormones and increasing immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, stimulating the immune system’s ability to fight viral and bacterial infections and even help protect against disease. Laughter boosts our immune system and helps prevent certain types of disease, but it’s important to mention that laughter is not a “cure” for anything. It helps. It makes life better, but all it really “cures” is silence.
Laughter reduces blood pressure and blood sugar. With blood pressure laughter assists with vascular function, causing our blood vessels to relax and expand while at the same time reducing the hormone epinephrine. Getting a daily dose of laughter has been shown to improve post-meal glucose levels in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Laughter is Also Good for Our Minds
The research on the mental benefits of laughter can be summarized as follows: (1) Laughter reduces stress, anxiety, tension, and counteracts depressive symptoms; (2) elevates mood, self-esteem, hope, energy and vigor; (3) enhances memory, creative thinking and problem-solving; (4) improves interpersonal interaction, relationships, attraction and closeness; (5) increases friendliness, helpfulness and builds group identity, solidarity, and cohesiveness; (6) promotes psychological well-being; (7) improves quality of life; and (8) intensifies mirth and is contagious. Now I will go into detail about how laughter provides beneficial effects to mental health.
Laughter is nature’s stress management tool. Laughter lowers stress and tension by releasing a rush of stress-busting hormones like epinephrine and dopamine and reducing stress making hormones, like cortisol. Illnesses are negatively impacted by stress. Short term stress has a purpose in motivating us to act and helping to keep us safe. However, prolonged exposure to stress is a major contributor to depression, anxiety, hypertension, obesity, and a plethora of other mental and physical problems. A hearty laugh from the belly provides an emotional and physical release, removing tension and leaving your body relaxed.
Laughing gives us the breathing space we need to release tension and to keep a positive outlook. This breathing room gives us a more positive perspective and we are more likely to see the bright side of a situation.
Laughter reduces anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. One of the things that keeps me going during this pandemic and quarantine is laughter. I’ve been living with anxiety and depression long before COVID-19 came along, but the fear surrounding the virus as well as the isolation and restraints of quarantine had the potential to worsen things for me — and I know I’m not the only one. My daily laughter practice as well as connecting with other Laughter Yoga teachers on Zoom Laughter Clubs has helped tremendously.
Laughter increases hormones in the body, which improve overall mental functioning. When we laugh regularly will experience increased creative thinking, problem solving, alertness, and memory. Positive emotions help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on. Think of the edge this gives at work and in our personal lives? Who wouldn’t want to see out-of-the-box solutions, spot opportunities, and better see how we can build upon the ideas of others?!
Laughter improves interpersonal interactions and increased friendliness, helpfulness and sense of group identity. Laughter releases high concentrations of hormones that are related to feelings of happiness, bonding, tolerance, generosity, and compassion. This improves relationships and builds group identity, cohesiveness, and solidarity. Comedian Victor Borge said it best, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Laughter builds up a sense of closeness to others helping us to see that there are fewer differences and more similarities among us.
Laughter elevates mood and overall feelings of well-being such as self-esteem, hope, energy, and vigor. People who experience positive emotions more frequently are shown to exhibit higher levels of confidence, optimism, and self-efficacy; likability; sociability, activity, and energy; prosocial behavior; immunity and physical well-being. They are more flexible and effective in coping with challenge and stress.
A key indicator of happiness is the experience of frequent positive emotions. This is called positive affect. Laughter has been shown to elevate our affect, even when there’s nothing to laugh at.
Why is positive affect important? In studies, happy respondents rate themselves higher in global health and report higher levels of social and physical functioning and lower levels of pain, relative to their less happy peers. It’s demonstrated that happy people are more successful than their less happy counterparts in work, relationships, and health. Happiness creates these outcomes. It is not other way around. We don’t experience happiness as an outcome of success.
William James, the father of American psychology once said, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh. What he was referring to has since become one of the most robust theories in psychology. Basically, our emotions are experienced as the brain’s interpretation of physiological changes in our body. Smiling and laughter make us happy, or to state it more scientifically, increase our experience of positive affect.
This works both ways. When we laugh for example, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness. The release of dopamine when we feel happy causes us to smile, and the mere act of smiling causes the brain to release dopamine, which in turn makes us feel happy.
In my own life, I’ve found it to be true that if I can get laughing, I can get happier. Easier said than done you may think. You may even ask, “How can I laugh when nothing seems funny and I feel like I’ve lost my sense of humor?”
I discovered that we can choose to laugh. We don’t have to be happy in order to laugh. We don’t need something funny to happen in order to laugh. We can simply choose to laugh. We can just laugh. And what’s more is that just by going through the motions of laughter, we can improve our mood and many other aspects of our health and wellbeing.
What is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter Yoga is health concept in which you can laugh heartily without jokes, comedy, or even having a sense of humor. You can start laughing even if you are feeling sad, angry, depressed, any emotion.
In Laughter Yoga sessions laughter is initially simulated as a physical exercise. Participants make eye contact with the others in the group while enacting a sense of childlike playfulness. When we see others laughing in an environment of playfulness and with good eye contact, the laughter soon becomes real and contagious.
Laughter Yoga is called Laughter “Yoga” because it combines laughter exercises with deep yogic breathing practices known as Pranayama.
Laughter Yoga was developed by a medical doctor, Madan Kataria, in collaboration with his wife, Madhuri, a yoga teacher. This worldwide movement began in 1995 with a just five people laughing in a park in Mumbai, India. Now there are thousands of Laughter Clubs in over one-hundred countries worldwide.
Find a Laughter Yoga Class
Online Laughter Yoga Clubs on Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms have gained in popularity during the COVID 19 pandemic. Laughter Clubs are loosely defined as gatherings of people who just want to laugh as a form of exercise with other like-minded individuals. Now with the global pandemic, people from all over the world are laughing together with the click of a button! With so many remote Laughter Yoga sessions being facilitated online, Laughter Yogis are more connected than ever. And that’s a good thing because the positive social interactions that happen in a supportive, non-judgmental environment bring about even more benefits than the laughter itself.
Need a good laugh? Try my free Laughter Yoga classes. We meet online for 20 minutes twice weekly. In the Laughter Yoga sessions, I guide you through a gentle warm-up, a series of laughter and deep breathing exercises, a special laughter meditation where we enjoy free-flowing laughter, and a guided relaxation.
Exercises to Try When Laughing Alone
While it is easier to laugh in a group, the following section is a description of a handful of Laughter Yoga exercises to try so that you can get the health benefits of laughter even if you are alone. These are just a few suggestions. Feel free to improvise and create your own laughter exercises. Remember, if you are laughing heartily, you are doing it right!
I’ll give a written description of how to perform these various exercises. If you prefer, watch this video where I show you how to perform these laughter exercises.
- Ha, ha, ha, Hee, hee, hee; Ho, ho, ho, laughter sounds – Don’t feel like laughing? Try making laughing sounds. Laughter is like any muscle. The more you laugh, the more you are able to laugh. For me, this starts with just going through the motions of laughing and intentionally making laughing sounds. As I continue to do this, I generally find that my intentional laughter sounds become real and contagious laughter with a little practice each morning.
- Aloha Laughter – Inhaling, stretch upward and say “Alo~~~” for a long breath; at the very end of the breath, fall forward with a firm “Ha-a-a!” You can even finish with a laughing hula wave. I love to do this exercise in bed falling forward into a pillow. When I do this exercise, I try to really burst into laughter.
- Calcutta Laughter – Extend the hands to the front as you make the sounds “Ho, Ho” then press the hands down to the floor making the “Ha, Ha” sound. Repeat “Ho, Ho, Ha Ha” as long as you like. You can get funky with it and turn this into a trancelike dance. I personally love to do this exercise on my morning walk. Feel free to take breathing breaks and repeat.
- Very Good, Very Good, YAY! Chant – Clap twice while exclaiming “Very Good, Very Good” then extend the arms up with a triumphant YAY!” This chant gets us in touch with our sense of childlike playfulness and when I do it, I can’t help but laugh!
- Gibberish Talk – If you want to get out of your head, try gibberish talk. To do this you speak in a language that doesn’t make sense to anybody. Try it. It’s fun! I l personally like to talk in gibberish rapidly while making hand gestures. You can imagine you are having a heated argument in gibberish, but instead of fighting try laughing while you waggle your finger at the other person.
- One Meter Laughter – As if measuring a length of cloth, start with arms raised up to one side, the hands close together. Move one arm along front of body, as if measuring: 1) to the other arm’s elbow, saying “Aeeee…” 2) to the same arm’s shoulder joint, saying (a little higher) “Aeeee…”; then 3) arms wide apart, head slightly back; “Aeee-ah-ha-ha-ha-ha!” laughing heartily, celebrating your having succeeded in measuring a meter.
- Household Chores Laughter – Laugh as you pretend to clean the house.
- Lion Laughter – Stick tongue way out and down towards the chin, big smile on cheeks; eyebrows lift high, eyes open wide; hands like a lion paws next to the sides of face like a lion’s paws, roar and laugh from the belly.
- Deep breath, HA HA HA Mantra – Say what’s on your mind then laugh HA HA HA until you can’t make the HA sound anymore.
How Can I Laugh When I Don’t Feel Like Laughing
It’s okay if you don’t feel like laughing at first. In the beginning just going through the motions of laughter and making laughing sounds with your voice is okay. I generally find that once I start making laughing sounds, it tends to turn into real and genuine laughter. That being said, there have been times when I felt depressed and as if I had lost my laugh. During these blue times in my life, I just made a point to go through the motions of laughter and make laughter sounds. Science shows that even voluntarily making laughter sounds is beneficial both mentally and physically.
Are there any contraindications for Laughter Yoga?
Laughter Yoga is like any other aerobic exercise and may not be suitable for everyone, as it involves some physical strain and a rise in intra-abdominal pressure. Some people may have pre- existing medical conditions should take reasonable precaution before engaging laughter exercises.
It is contraindicated for people experiencing any kind of hernia, heart disease with angina pain, persistent cough with breathlessness, uncontrolled high blood pressure, incontinence, epilepsy, advanced (bleeding) piles and hemorrhoids, severe backache, any acute symptoms of cough, cold and fever.
People with heart disease and high blood pressure but who are stable on medication and can take a brisk walk for 30 minutes without any symptoms can do Laughter Yoga with advice from their medical doctor.
People who have undergone major surgery should wait at least three months before doing Laughter Yoga. If in doubt first consult a medical professional for guidance. People who have undergone bypass surgery can also do Laughter Yoga after their stress test is normal.
Pregnancy is also a relative contraindication. Women are in advanced stage of pregnancy or with a previous history of miscarriages should refrain from doing Laughter Yoga.
People living with minor and major psychiatric disorders can participate in a laughter session except those who are not in touch with reality (e.g. schizophrenia, or hyper mania (manic part of bipolar disorder).
What Happens in a Laughter Yoga Session
Are you considering trying Laughing Yoga but you’re not sure what to expect in a session? This article explains each of these components of a complete Laughter Yoga session, as originally outlined by Dr. Madan Kataria, the founder of the worldwide Laughter Yoga movement.