Are you laughter fit?

By learning to tap into our ‘childlike’ model of laugher, we can harness the physical, emotional and social benefits of this unique form of exercise, writes Kathy Popplewell.

You might be surprised to learn that the seemingly simple act of laughing can provide a full body workout. When you laugh, your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg and back muscles all get a workout, blood pressure is lowered and oxygenation of the blood increases.

While researching the effects of laughter, pioneer laughter researcher William Fry discovered that with one minute of hearty laughter he could increase his heart rate to a level that would take him 10 minutes achieve on a rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike.

In addition to the mental, emotional and social health benefits it can deliver, you may discover that adding laughter to your fitness professional tool kit will generate a whole new stream of clients laughing right through your door!

The first human laughter

Laughter is part of the biological makeup of the human species and preceded spoken language as a form of communication, bonding and stress relief – all of which are vital for survival. It is a universal language connecting all humans, regardless of age, sex, language or culture.

Babies start to laugh when they are only a few months old, and studies show that even deaf and blind babies start to laugh at the same age, demonstrating that it is not something we ‘learn’ to do. Rather, it is a natural human function – and a very important one at that.

Why laugh?

The average adult laughs only about 15 times a day, while children can laugh somewhere in the region of 300 to 400 times daily. It’s a pretty sobering statistic considering that in Australia we have soaring rates of obesity, depression, heart disease, cancer and many other stress-related illnesses, the severity of which may be able to be lessened by the effects of laughter. How so?

Laughter dissolves stress and anger, releases endorphins (the happy hormones) which improve our mood, breaks down barriers, helps us to feel connected, releases natural pain killers, massages the internal organs, aids digestion, strengthens the lungs, boosts the immune system, builds resilience, can improve quality of sleep and can help develop a sense of humour, all of which can be of great benefit in combating many of the serious health conditions so prevalent in our stressed-out modern society.

One of the first things I ask people when I run a laughter session is ‘how do you feel when you laugh?’. Take a moment to consider this right now. The most popular answers include ‘happy’, ‘free’, ‘energised’ and ‘present’.

When I ask ‘who would like more laughter in their lives?’ almost everyone raises their hand. We all know that it feels good, is good for us and we’d like to do it more (especially in the Western world) – but how do we raise our laughter quota?

Two models of laughter

There are two distinct faces of laughter, one smiling and friendly and the other potentially a lot darker. I define them as the ‘childlike’ and ‘adult’ models of laughter.

The childlike model of laughter is natural, spontaneous and unconditional. This is one of our most natural states and is defined by Dr Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, as the ‘inner spirit of laughter’. The childlike model of laughter is defined as laughing for no reason – and not needing a reason to laugh. It comes from the whole body and is generally done from a state of playfulness, joy, love and connection.

The adult model of laughter is conditioned, conditional and something we learn to do in order to fit in or be accepted. The adult model comes from the mind and is generally focused on something external to ourselves, such as a joke, something smart, intellectual or even nasty. Although this model of laughter can be perceived as fun, it is often limiting and hurtful to ourselves or others.

3 myths about laughter
  • You need to be happy to laugh
  • You need a reason to laugh
  • You need a sense of humour to laugh.

Judging by these two definitions, then, it seems obvious that there are greater physical, mental, emotional and social benefits of rediscovering our inner spirit of laughter based on the childlike model. But how can we do this?

The truth is, the more you laugh the happier you will feel, the more reasons you will find to laugh and the greater a sense of humour you will develop!

History and science of laughter

It has been a long held belief throughout both ancient and modern cultures that laughter is the best medicine – or at least a form of medicine. The Romans even built their hospitals next to the amphitheatres, reputedly so patients could benefit from hearing the laughter of audiences.

In the 21st century, it is the work of people like Norman Cousins (author of Anatomy of an Illness) and Patch Adams and the Clown Doctors, as well as major research by Dr Lee Burk, William Fry and Robert Provine, that has helped bring the benefits of laughter into the light of medical science.

Much of this research, however, was based on using humour to stimulate laughter – a technique which does not generally sustain the laughter within the participant for long enough to gain the benefits of using laughter as a form of exercise.

This all changed in 1995, when Dr Madan Kataria started his first laughter club, in which jokes were initially told to start people laughing. However, the funny jokes quickly ran out. Going back to the drawing board, Dr Kataria discovered scientific research showing that the brain does not differentiate between real and simulated laughter, and that if you simulate laughter you get the same benefits as if you were laughing naturally. Additionally, because of the contagious effect of laughter, performing simulated laughter in a group will often result in your natural laughter taking over.

Want to know more about Laughter yoga?

To watch some clips from Laughter Yoga workshops, or to find out about upcoming Laughter Yoga Leadership Training visit www.vibrance.com.au, or call 0405 147 154 to find out how you can add more laughter and fun to your professional tool kit with Laughter Fit for team building, peak performance and workplace wellbeing.

Noting the parallels between the physical nature of laughing and certain yogic breathing techniques, the laughter club evolved into Laughter Yoga, a method that uses a combination of gentle stretching, deep yogic breathing and simulated laughter exercises to stimulate the release of natural spontaneous laughter. It is a non-humour-based form of laughter designed to help participants rediscover their childlike model of laughter, playfulness and creativity.

Since its inception, the Laughter Yoga method has become a global movement and spread like wildfire around the globe. It’s also inspired many new scientific research studies on the effects and benefits of laughter in the process.

REFERENCES

Laughter. A Scientific Investigation, Robert R Provine.
Laugh for No Reason, Dr Madan Kataria.
Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins.
www.laughteryoga.org

If you’re ready to add more fun to your life in a healthy, happy and natural way, all you need to do is make a conscious decision to start laughing out loud more, because the more you laugh the better you will feel. You’ll also make a positive difference to the lives of your family, colleagues, clients and community by encouraging them to laugh more.

And in addition to increasing your personal attractiveness, by smiling and laughing more, you may also find that your business and services become more attractive to prospective clients and participants. After all, if you had a choice between training in a place that was filled with frowning and stressed out people, or one filled with smiling and enthusiastic people, which experience would you choose?

Kathy Popplewell
A mind body specialist and Australian ‘Laughter Ambassador’, Kathy is passionate about helping people to live, love and laugh naturally. As the owner of Vibrance Whole Health & Fitness, Kathy develops and facilitates unique and fun programs that incorporate yoga, laughter, dance and personal development that embody a ‘fitness that feels good and celebrates you’ philosophy. To find out more visit www.vibrance.com.au