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No joke, laughter can be good for you

Created date

April 30th, 2009

' ' "You don t stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing." Anonymous Across the globe more and more people are laughing, and not just because something is funny. "After you laugh you feel better," says Jodi Peister, M.D., founder and president of Dr. Wellbeing, a provider of wellness, laughter, and body-mind medicine programs. "Even if you fake laugh, you feel better afterward." As a certified laughter yoga instructor, Peister leads a variety of laughter yoga clubs (also called laughter clubs). Even though yoga is in the name, it doesn t involve challenging poses or meditation. Laughter Yoga International defines laughter yoga as "a unique exercise routine that combines group laughter exercises with yoga breathing and allows anyone to laugh without using jokes, humor, or comedy." Peister explains that yoga is the philosophy behind laughter yoga. The goal is to unite and balance our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual selves and then feel happier. "At the beginning of laughter yoga, the laughter starts out as simulated or fake. But real laughter develops for most people during the session," she says. Vocal repetitions, body movements, and clapping may all take place during a laughter club meeting as well. ' Starting to laugh ' Laughter yoga began in 1995 when a physician named Madan Kataria, M.D., saw the research on laughter. One study showed laughter increased the amount of natural killer cells (a type of white blood cell) and antibody levels. Another study showed one minute of laughter stimulates your heart and blood circulation as much as ten minutes on a rowing machine. After that, Kataria started the first laughter club. "Children laugh out loud about 300 times a day, but adults are socialized to not laugh out loud unless there is a reason," says Peister. "Kataria found laughter was beneficial, so he created a safe place for people to laugh. Adults can re-learn to laugh just like they did as children. It s simply takes practice." Today there are more than 6,000 laughter yoga clubs in over 60 countries. ' Making jokes ' Howard Newman, another leader of laughter, hosts a different kind of laughter program. Newman combined his knowledge as a personal trainer with his experience as a stand-up comedian and came up with a fitness and entertainment program called Jokesercise. "It s different from a laughter club," Newman explains. "I play music and combine jokes and exercise. By the end of the workout, people have a big smile on their face. When you are having fun and laughing, you don t even realize you are working out." (To see a Jokesercise video, visit www.jokesercise.com and click on "Multimedia.") ' The best medicine? ' According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter s health benefits are no joke. In the short term, laughter can stimulate your organs, relieve stress, and soothe tension and stomachaches. In the long term, laughter may improve your immune system, relieve pain, and increase personal satisfaction. Peister believes a person s mood is improved, and they feel brighter after going to a laughter club. "It releases stress and tension," she says. "People who regularly attend a laughter club claim they physically feel better, have more energy, enjoy life more, and get along better with others. They affirm improvement of illness, including depression, anxiety, and pain reduction." ' Find the funny ' To incorporate more laughter into your life, Newman recommends joke books or situation comedies. He likes Milton Berle s joke book from 50 years ago, and he also enjoys watching re-runs of Seinfeld. The Mayo Clinic suggests you find items that make you chuckle and then put them in places where you will see them. And try to find a way to laugh at the different situations in your life. Look for the positive or humorous in every situation and surround yourself with people who do the same. "There s an ancient proverb that says, Laughter is to the soul what soap is to the body. Soap cleans the body, and laughter cleans the soul. Whatever you were upset about isn t there anymore," says Peister. That s why she recommends fake laughing every day for a minute or two. To find a laughter club near you, go to www.laughteryoga.org, and then click on "Find Clubs."

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