May 28


Laughter Therapy: The History Of Laughter Yoga

By Jess Bellingham

May 28, 2021

Have you ever heard of laughter therapy or laughter yoga?

Laughing is an excellent way to reduce stress and provides a full-scale workout for your body and mind. When we laugh, it causes us to unleash a flood of chemicals and positive neurotransmitters like stress-relieving endorphins, that stimulates our brains, immune systems and our nervous systems. Our blood flow can increase by up to 50% when we laugh…and it even burns calories!

Since our brains and bodies can’t distinguish between real and fake laughter, anything that gives you the giggles will have a positive impact on your mind and body.  You don’t need to be happy or have a great sense of humour to benefit from a good laughing fit.

Laughter Therapy

Dr William F. Fry, psychiatrist, Stanford University

Dr Fry examined the physiological effects of laughter in the late 1960s and is considered the founding father of ‘gelotology’ (the science of laughter).

He proved that laughter provides good physical exercise. It can also decrease the chances of respiratory infections and causes our body to produce endorphins (natural painkillers).

Norman Cousins

In 1979, a man named Norman Cousins published a book called The Anatomy of an Illness. In this he talks about a potentially fatal disease he contracted in 1964. While ill, he discovered that humour and positive emotions seemed to have positive benefits while he was battling the disease.

For example, he found that just ten minutes of laughter helped him to have 2 hours of pain-free sleep. His story inspired the scientific community and inspired a whole field of research.

Dr Lee Berk, Loma Linda University Medical Centre

Inspired by Cousins, Dr Berk and his team, working in the field of psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI), studied the physical impact of laughter.

In a study of heart attack patients, they divided the group in two and placed one under standard medical care while the other watched funny videos for thirty minutes each day.

After a year, the ‘humour’ group had lower blood pressure, lower levels of stress hormones, fewer arrhythmias, and didn’t need as much medication. The other group, however, had two and a half times more recurrent heart attacks than the humour group (50% vs. 20%).

Dr Hunter (Patch) Adams

Patch, Immortalized by Robin Williams in the film Patch Adams, inspired millions of people by devoting himself to bringing fun and laughter back into the hospitals and putting into practice the idea that “healing should be a loving human interchange, not a business transaction”.

He founded and is the director of the Gesundheit Institute, a holistic medical community that has been providing free medical care to patients since 1971. Thanks to Patch, thousands of therapeutic care clowns are now in practice worldwide.

Laughter Yoga was popularized by a family physician in India called Madan Kataria. His work was based on the principles of the benefits of laughter explored in the 1960s. Kataria found that our minds don’t differentiate between real and fake laughter. Therefore, like a contagious yawn, it is possible to make people genuinely laugh either from watching other people laugh or by fake laughter becoming real laughter. Laughing has been shown to improve depression and positively influence peoples mental states.

Dr Annette Goodheart

Goodheart is a psychotherapist and the creator of laughter therapy and laughter coaching. For 36 years she has used laughter in the treatment of many illnesses including cancer, AIDS and depression. She has taught at universities, schools, companies, organisations and public events, bringing laughter everywhere she goes.

Dr Madan Kataria, creator of Laughter Yoga

In March 1995 Dr Kataria Mumbai, India wrote an article called Laughter – The Best Medicine for a health journal. He was particularly impressed by Norman Cousins’ book Anatomy of an Illness and the research by Dr Berk. Dr Kataria, performing his research, discovered that the body doesn’t differentiate between fake or genuine laughter.

He decided to create laughter exercises, including role-play and other techniques, drawing from his days as an amateur dramatic actor. Discovering that playfulness and acting child-like was an important part of the process, he birther laughter Yoga, which is now practised worldwide.

The practise of laughter yoga is to do some gentle warm-up techniques that include stretching, chanting, clapping, and body movement, to help get you in the mood for a good laugh! Breathing exercises are then used to prepare the lungs for laughter. This is usually followed by a series of ‘laughter exercises’. Sounds great to me and something we can easily do at home.

Jess Bellingham

As well as being a qualified NLP practitioner, Jess has a rich background in marketing and writing. Having written for other people throughout her career, she is definitely loving being able to finally write and create for herself. Her work mainly consists of researching and trying out everything and anything to do with personal development and helping guide others through this sometimes daunting and confusing space. Her downtime (when she isn't being an adrenaline junkie) usually consists of shinrin-yoku, reading a ludicrous amount of books, working on her many secret novels, harassing her cats, watching 80's & 90's movies and raging at her consoles. When she isn't a potato, she can sometimes be seen outdoors (normally hiking, galavanting on beaches or skulking in the woods).

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  1. Steve Wilson is a psychologist from Ohio, USA, who developed a passion for laughter and humor starting in the 1970s and brought the concept of Laughter Clubs to the USA in the late 1990s.

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