Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Laughter- the salt of life Part II

Benefits of laughter (contd…)
Laughter and the Brain:Very little is known about the specific brain mechanisms responsible for laughter. There have been studies on the brain mechanisms in negative emotions like depression, fear and anger but not much on positive emotions. But recent research suggests that on a simple level the complex process involves three main brain components. One part, a cognitive thinking part, helps you get the joke. A second movement part helps move the muscles of the face to smile and laugh. And a third emotional part helps produce the happy feelings that accompany a mirthful experience. The humour-processing pathway includes parts of the frontal lobe brain area, important for cognitive processing; the supplementary motor area, important for movement; and the nucleus accumbens, associated with pleasure. Humour helps integrate both hemispheres of our brain, for the left hemisphere is used to decipher the verbal content of a joke while the right hemisphere interprets whether it is funny or not.
Laughter is deep breathing: During belly laughter, your diaphragm and abdomen are sucked in and the lungs are emptied. It has a cleansing effect. It is followed by intake of full-oxygenated air. This amounts to deep breathing. This process is being utilised by the laughter clubs in laughter yoga. It is equivalent to kapalavati pranayam in yoga. Thus laughter is believed to help in respiratory ailments. It is beneficial for patients who are suffering from emphysema and other respiratory ailments. Scientific evidence has shown that laughter helps people breathe easier and it massages the heart and other vital organs. Researchers have found that antibodies in the mucous membranes of the nose and respiratory passages increase after laughter therapy. The frequency of colds, sore throats and chest infections comes down.
Laughter strengthens Immune system: Our immune system plays a most important role in keeping good health and keeping away infections, allergies and cancers Medical researches have found that laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter boosts the interferon levels of the immune system, which helps in fighting illness, and stimulates healing. Laughter decreases stress hormones that constrict blood vessels and suppress immune activity. It may also increase the release of disease-fighting cells in the immune system. Research results indicate that, after exposure to humour, there is a general increase in activity within the immune system. According to Dr. Lee S. Berk from Loma Linda University, California, USA, laughter helps to increase the count of natural killer cells (NK cells - a type of white cell) and also raises the antibody levels.
Laughter is natural painkiller: - Laughter reduces the level of at least four of neuroendocrine hormones associated with stress response. These are epinephrine, cortisol, dopac, and growth hormone. Laughter increases the levels of endorphins in our bodies, which are natural painkillers. Endorphins released as a result of laughter may help in reducing the intensity of pain in those suffering from arthritis, spondylitis and muscular spasms of the body.
Laugher is aerobic workout: Laughter activates many parts of the body. When we laugh, we alter our facial expressions and make sounds. During exuberant laughter, the muscles of the arms, legs and trunk are involved. Laughter is equivalent to a small amount of exercise. It involves internal muscles particularly of lungs, intestine and diaphragm. It improves the blood supply and helps the bowels to move properly. Laughter is an aerobic exercise as it involves intake of lot of oxygen. It increases the body’s ability to take more oxygen that results in feeling of happiness and joy. According to Dr. William Fry from Standford University one minute of laughter is equal to 10 minutes on the rowing machine. Unlike many other aerobic exercises, for some of which, you need to go out, you can engage in laughter at any place, even if you are bed ridden or on a wheel chair.

Laughter is the key to joy: You will agree that the present times are very stressful for all of us. Many of us are suffering from anxiety; depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, insomnia, migraine, allergies, peptic ulcers -nervous breakdowns, insomnia, suicidal tendencies etc. which are related to stress. Laughter is likely to benefit in keeping us less stressful and in fighting such diseases. Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones epineprine and cortisol. You feel relaxed and joyful after you have bouts of laughter. Laughter is an essential ingredient of a healthy, happy life and is one of the most effective and immediate antidotes to stress and tension. When you are under stress, adrenalin is secreted. When you laugh, the adrenalin level goes down and the cumulative effect of stress is minimised. Those who laugh often are less prone to heart attacks than those who are introverted and tend to brood. Laughter dissolves tension, stress, anxiety, irritation, anger, grief, and depression. Like crying, laughter lowers inhibitions, allowing the release of pent-up emotions
Laughter makes you look younger: The exercises you do may be exercising various part of your external and internal muscles. But there are hardly any for the facial muscles. But laughter is one that exercises you facial muscles. It increases blood supply to your facial muscles. Thereby, done regularly, it may tone up your face and you may look young and cheerful.
Laugh and be joyful: We have seen the many benefits of laughter. It is now for you to learn to laugh. One way is to join the neighbour yoga centre that also practices laughter yoga. But there are numerous humorous serials, pictures, films, comedies etc that you may watch on your TV or CD player and enjoy the belly laughs. Also you may have hearty laugh when reading a joke book, telling a joke or listening one from others.

Laughter is not about jokes alone. It is a way if life. It is how we view the things. We need not always be serious or follow disciplined way of life. We can be sincere without taking life always seriously. We can learn to laugh about our mistakes and pain. We can learn to laugh at ourselves and enjoy life. Nobody is free from mistakes, sufferings or problems. But when we learn to laugh, life may be less stressful. When we learn to laugh at our sorrows and sufferings, they become more bearable. We then take life more positively. It leads us to more happiness and joy.

The brain does not differentiate between a genuine laugh and when you fake it such as when you do it in a yoga class. So you can fake laughter and have the full benefits of laughter. It would give you the relief from stress and it keeps you health and happy.