Laughter is Truly The Best Medicine For Baby Boomers
I have a very contagious laugh, and I have always loved to make others laugh as well, but only in recent years have I understood how all this laughing is helping us Boomers remain healthy and vital.
Much has been written lately about the benefits of laughter, but the real pioneer in this field was Norman Cousins. Back in the 1970's Cousins studied the effect of humor on a person's health. His ground-breaking work, as a layperson diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, documented his use of laughter in treating himself, with medical approval and oversight, into remission. He published his personal research results in the New England Journal of Medicine and wrote a book about his journey of healing called “Anatomy Of An Illness.” Basically, Norman was told by his doctors that there was no hope and that he would die, so he bought every Marx Brothers movie he could find and went home to laugh himself well. He lived another 26 years…
Then in the 1990's researchers at California 's Lorna Linda University discovered that laughing lowers levels of three stress hormones: dopac, cortisol, and epinephrine, by 38, 39 and 70% respectively. In today's high stress society, this is very good news, indeed.
Laughing as little as ten minutes a day can lower your risk of heart disease by 10%. That's good news for Boomers! So Dr. Patch Adams wasn't crazy after all when he told the medical community “laughter, joy and creativity are an integral part of the healing process and therefore true health care must incorporate such life!” You may remember the movie about Patch Adams' remarkable work starring Robin Williams. If you haven't seen it, it's definitely worth the rental fee - if only for the benefits your body will get from laughing!
In 2006, psychoneuroimmunology expert Lee S. Burk and his team of researchers from Lorna Linda University published a study showing that even the anticipation of laughter had the positive effect of boosting beta endorphins (feel good hormones) and human growth hormone, which improves immunity. This and other studies have shown that laughter increased the production of antibodies, including T-cells (known for killing tumor cells). And just last year, this same group published another study showing that participants who laughed while watching a comedy increased the dilation of blood vessels by 20%, and this benefit lasted for up to 24 hours. This is great news for anyone at risk for heart disease because constricted or blocked blood vessels can cause damage to your heart. So now you can keep your blood vessels open and flowing with laughter instead of taking a pill - how cool is that? The study also showed that when participants watched a serious documentary, the arteries actually constricted by 18%. This is why my TV is not hooked up to cable. It's just a screen for watching movies, and funny movies at that!
One of my favorite classes to present is Laughing Meditation . Participants in these sessions have cleared their sinuses, lowered blood pressure, slept better, and the list goes on and on. During laughing meditation your focus and concentration is on the laughter itself, instead of on your breath or a mantra as in other meditation practices. We start out with a few stretches, then lie on the floor in a circle with our heads toward the center. I get us started with a couple of silly puns or jokes, and as I said, my own laugh is contagious, so everyone starts right in. Big belly laughs are recommended, as is trying out different laughs, and laughing so hard that you slap your hand or foot down on the floor. I'm sure you can imagine - it only takes one hyena or wicked witch of the west in the group to keep everyone laughing hysterically. Twenty minutes goes by faster than you think when you're concentrating on laughing. Your abs get a good work-out, as do your bronchi, and you get rid of all those extra stress hormones.
Once we all stop laughing, I do a guided relaxation to calm everyone further, and we end with a Yogic breathing practice called “ Brahmari Breath ,” which also has been shown to release endorphins. We are all high on endorphins by the time we leave!
Today, Yoga studios, health centers and even many hospital wellness programs offer some form of laughing meditation or laughter yoga. There are laughter clubs springing up everywhere to help people through the grieving process, or as part of therapy for depression. Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston recommends laughter for patients undergoing cancer treatment and keeps a large selection of funny movies in their Hope Lodge, for patients staying there when they are receiving daily out-patient treatments. My brother Pat watched every episode of Seinfeld while he was there receiving his treatments and it seemed to speed his recovery.
I highly recommend spending at least ten minutes a day laughing your butt off. Watch a funny movie with your whole family, read some good jokes on- line during your lunch break, keep a Robin Williams CD, or Bill Cosby, or anyone else that you find hysterical in your car and get into the habit of using laughter as your daily stress reducer. Your mind and body will thank you for providing yourself with the “best” medicine there is.
Best of Health,
Main page - Kathi Casey