“Laughter is a form of internal jogging. It moves your internal organs around. It enhances respiration. It is an igniter of great expectations. So let us laugh our way into good health, into happiness, and a brighter day.” Norman Cousins
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – The old saying, ‘Laughter is the best medicine’, has withstood the test of time. Laughter is good for one’s health and soul. In fact, holistic interpretations of health and wellness would agree that people may well hold the key to good health.
Over the past 20 years, an international movement has erupted in the holistic wellness sphere – Laughter Yoga. Laughter yoga is a simple yet effective technique that combines laughter with yogic breathing techniques to improve quality of life. This revolution is no laughing matter, (pun intended!) and is currently practiced in more than sixty countries with thousands of laughter clubs across the globe.
The benefits of laughter yoga go beyond just emotional and mental health; scientific research indicates that the human body can also benefit from this exercise. A Vanderbilt University study reported that 10-15 minutes of laughter a day can burn up to 40 calories. Another study from Loma Linda University showed that a sense of humor can protect against heart disease. According to Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga University and the laughter yoga movement, some other benefits of the practice include:
- Good Mood and More Laughter: Laughter yoga helps to change your mood within minutes by releasing positive endorphins, which will keep you cheerful throughout the day and make you laugh more than you normally do.
- Healthy Exercise to Beat Stress: Laughter yoga is like a cardio workout that brings more oxygen to the body and brain, making one feel more energized and relaxed.
- Health Benefits: Laughter yoga reduces stress and strengthens the immune system. You will not fall sick easily, and if you suffer from chronic health conditions you will heal faster.
- Quality of Life: Laughter fosters positive energy, which improves relationships. If you laugh more, your vitality will invite more people into your life.
- Positive Attitude in Challenging Times: Laughter creates a positive mental state that gives hope and optimism to cope with difficult times.
Many countries have picked up on this international trend, including Ethiopia where laughter yoga has achieved such popularity that October 31 is declared National Ethiopian Laughter Day. Laughter yoga was first introduced to the Ethiopian health and wellness space in 2002 by world laughter master Belachew Girma. Girma opened the first laughter yoga school in Addis Ababa called Laughter for All Association -Ethiopia. The school provides laughter yoga trainings in “Indigenous Laughter”, which focus on helping people hone their innate, natural laughter through Team Bonding, Stress Management, Positive Thinking, and Peace Building exercises. In addition to traveling around the world sharing his message, Girma visits old age homes in Ethiopia with professional laughter therapists as part of the school’s mission is to improve the quality of life for the elderly through laughter.
While the laughter yoga movement has been greatly successful across borders, it has had a unique impact in the African context. Health care accessibility in most African countries has seen significant improvements over the past ten years although mental health has not received enough attention. According to a study published in International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 79 percent of African countries spent less than one percent of their total health budget to mental health. Therefore, alternative self-treatments like laughter yoga can provide essential support in fighting mental illness.
Although the absence of laughter is not the root cause of all health issues, laughter yoga is a potential solution to the ailments of an increasingly sedentary and isolating lifestyle. The Social Care Institute for Excellence in the UK states that “The range of interventions for alleviating loneliness and social isolation can be grouped into one-to-one interventions, group services and wider community engagement. Those that look most effective include befriending, social group schemes and Community Navigators”. To sum up, social interaction is key to dealing with mental and physiological illnesses that stem from loneliness, and laughter yoga is a tool that facilitates such interaction.
Andria Reta is a Gerontologist and Health Administration Professor.