I had often heard the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine.” But it wasn’t until I had been in recovery for 17 years that I truly understood what it meant. The year was 2008; I was overwhelmed in my job, stressed by the events in my family and struggling in every other area of my life.
I was so distraught that I began researching the word “laughter” on the Internet and discovered a training program for laughter yoga in Laguna Beach, California. What especially stood out for me was that the people pictured in the ad were laughing for no reason. I immediately signed up and have been laughing ever since that anxious weekend. I have discovered that laughter truly is the best medicine for healing and preventing “dis-ease.” After training with Dr. Madan Kataria, The Laughter Guru, who developed Laughter Yoga (Hasya Yoga), I became a certified laughter yoga teacher.
In 1995, Dr. Kataria started Laughter Clubs in Mumbai, India. The movement that began with five people laughing together is now in over 70 countries and has over 300,000 members.
Laughter Yoga is serious business. Science is providing evidence of the significant health benefits of laughter. Giggles and guffaws relieve stress, depression and anxiety; strengthen the immune system; dilate blood vessels and stimulate circulation; and improve respiration, digestion and elimination – all for free!
Human brain chemistry is such that when we laugh, powerful chemicals are released – many of which addicts have sought so frantically to induce through active addiction. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins are “happy” brain chemicals. Endorphins, self-manufactured natural opiates, carry messages of attachment and bonding (the scientific terms for love) and stimulate feelings of caring and forgiveness. In addition, they act as natural painkillers, create a positive state of mind and boost optimism, self-confidence and feelings of self-worth.
Laughter can shake loose blocked emotions that are often stored in the body. Suppressed or blocked emotions can cause physical, mental and emotional problems; their release can provide life-changing results. Social interactions improve as laughter allows hormones and neuropeptides to flow through the bloodstream, further reducing stress and creating happiness from inner joy. The human connection and interaction in laughter groups can also reduce the feelings of isolation caused by addiction.
Children laugh an average of 300 to 400 times per day, whereas adults laugh an average of 15 times per day. With such great benefits and no cost, it is sad that laughter tends to subside as we become adults.
So, how can one laugh for absolutely no reason? How can a person giggle at the painful consequences of addiction and the troubles and trials of everyday life? We can make a conscious choice to laugh, even if we don’t feel like it in the moment. Days are not good or bad; they simply are. It is our perceptions and attitudes that make them so. We can be grim and negative and experience a life filled with worries and frowns – OR – we can choose to laugh and be jolly. Life is so much more enjoyable when we exercise our smile muscles.
The body does not know the difference between fake laughter and real laughter. The more one laughs, the more reasons one finds to laugh and enjoy life. Life becomes more at ease than at dis-ease. While beginning recovery and maintaining a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy, laughter can provide a light at the end of the tunnel.
Individuals with a history of loss – lost relationships, jobs, friendships, opportunities and dreams – can gain a new perspective and lighten their mood. As Dr. Kataria says, “If laughter cannot solve your problems, it will definitely dissolve your problems, so that you can think clearly what to do about them.”
There is no bending or twisting like a pretzel in Hasya Yoga. Laughter Yoga teachers do not tell jokes, use props or laugh for absolutely no reason. Laughter is contagious; and when laughing next to someone else, it is impossible to remain in negative emotions. Even if you don’t feel like laughing at first, remember, our bodies don’t know the difference between fake laughter and real laughter – and we still get the same great benefits. One minute of a good belly laugh is worth ten minutes of jogging or rowing – and it’s a lot more fun.
When someone is first in recovery, it may seem impossible to laugh. Addiction changes the brain; the centers for motivation, pleasure, reward, learning and memory are all affected. Part of a healthy recovery involves rewiring the circuitry of the brain and learning to release, connect, lighten up and not sweat the small stuff – learning how to engage in laughter instead of drama.
Laughter is liberating, legal and, yes, addictive. Laugher helps us see that life is indeed “Very good, very good indeed! YAY!”
Elizabeth J. Scott is a certified laughter yoga teacher and an Arizona Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor. She has been in the counseling and prevention field for over 20 years and in recovery for 24 years. She currently laughs with various groups and conducts workshops and trainings upon request. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.