Start the New Year with a laugh

Join a club whose members gather to laugh? No joke – it can benefit your health.

In 1995, Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India, created a club whose members gather every day to laugh.

He called it Laughter Yoga. Sessions begin with participants clapping rhythmically and chanting “Ho-ho, ha-ha-ha.” This faked laughter soon becomes real laughter. (See a clip of Laughter Yoga).

Laughter Yoga combines yoga deep breathing and simulated laughter exercises. Dr. Kataria believes that faked laughter has the same benefits as real laughter. “I believe that even if you are faking laughter, your body is not intelligent enough to make out the difference,” he says on his website, Laughter Yoga. “Even if you pretend laugh, the same set of happy chemicals (endorphins) are released from your brain cells.”

The program proved so popular that today there are over 5,000 laughter clubs in more than 50 countries. (For information on Canadian clubs, click here.)

Actor/comedian John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, visited a laughter club in India with Dr. Kataria for the BBC TV series Human Face and was moved by the experience.

“I’m struck by how laughter connects you with people,” Cleese said. “It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter; laughter is a force for democracy.” (Watch the media report.)

Important health benefits
Laughter can also bring important health benefits. Pent up negative emotions like anger, sadness and frustration can be released in a healthy way. It is also a helpful coping mechanism. Humor can help us view stressful events as “challenges” rather than “threats.” As Bill Cosby has said, “If you can laugh at it, you can survive it.”

Laughter may even help to prevent heart disease, according to a study at the University of Maryland. When you laugh you improve the function of the endothelium, which is the inner lining of blood vessels, the study suggested.

In fact, viewing laughter-provoking clips from movies like Kingpin (MGM, 1996) relaxed blood vessels in 19 of the 20 study volunteers and increased blood flow by an average of 22 percent. Film clips that caused stress, like the opening scene of Private Ryan (DreamWorks, 1998) narrowed blood vessels in 14 of 20 volunteers and decreased blood flow by an average of 34 percent.

“The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, so, given the results of our study, it is conceivable that laughing may be important to maintain a healthy endothelium, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Michael Miller, M.D., principal investigator of the study.

More reasons to laugh
Studies by Dr.Lee Berk at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California show that laughter may strengthen the body’s immune system and decrease stress hormones. His research also suggests that laughter can boost mood-elevating endorphins and lower blood pressure.

“For the most part, when you go and get medical treatment, a clinician is not necessarily going to tell you to take two aspirins and watch Laurel and Hardy,” said Berk. “But the reality is that’s where we are and it’s more real than ever. There’s a real science to this. And it’s as real as taking a drug.” (Source: