This is a laughing matter. Laughter Yoga is sweeping through the U.S., and making some bold claims. But, does it work, and if so, what is it good for?
What is it?
In short, Laughter Yoga was invented by Dr. Madan Kataria, a doctor from Mumbai, India – the "Guru of Giggling". During a Laughter Yoga session, the laughter leader progresses the class through different laughter exercises. You can also laugh alone, as the prescription by Dr. Kataria is to laugh every day.
Is Laughter the Best Medicine?
We have heard the saying that laughter is the best medicine, or cheap medicine. We have also heard of Patch Adams, M.D. and the Gesundheit! Institute, where holistic healthcare is infused with fun and play.
We do know, in general, that positive moods, outlooks on life, and states of mind hold clear, beneficial impacts on our health and well-being. The physiological benefits of legitimate laughter (from humor) have been reviewed and documented, which include improved respiration, general muscle relaxation, and enhanced mental functioning. Of course, the more we honestly laugh, the more we can experience positive mood and decrease stress. This is why there is an entire research filed dedicated to humor research!
Unfortunately, there is not much on the scientific basis or effectiveness of Laughter Yoga. A recent study looked at the effect of Laughter Yoga on the general health of 19 nursing students. Using eight, 1 hour sessions (two per week), Laughter Yoga had a positive effect on students' general health and improved the signs of physical and sleep disorders, lowered anxiety and depression in comparison to a control group. A single class of Laughter Yoga has been shown to improve positive emotions and reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress in current Laughter Yoga participants.
As highlighted in a recent commentary, one of the biggest unanswered questions is why and how laughing for no reason might show an improvement on mood, stress, and health? Much of the research has focused on humor, and not laughter (which are not the same).
No "Ripped" Abs or Flat Stomachs
Some people highlight a recent study that showed laughing demands a lot of our abdominal muscles. In turn, these advocates claim that Laughter Yoga will give us that flat, ripped stomach. Yes, the study did show that maximum "climax" laugther required more activation of the obliques (on side) than a traditional crunch, but was half as effective in activating the rectus abdominis muscle (the "six pack"). Besides, we cannot spot lose fat.
Laughter Yoga is a plausible way to improve our mood and reduce perceptions of stress and anxiety – assuming that the laughter is legitimate, it is eliciting positive emotions, and enabling positive relationships – which we do know are linked to better health. So, perhaps laughter can be cheap medicine. It is worth a shot.