Behaving like a big kid is good for your health, particularly when it comes to having a good, long laugh, says Brisbane practitioner Heather Joy Campbell.
- Laughter yoga was developed by Indian doctor Madan Kataria
- Heather Joy Campbell says the practice combines laughter exercises, gentle stretches, clapping and deep breath
- There are more than 10,000 laughter yoga clubs around the world
Ms Campbell, 56, is on a mission to teach people how to laugh themselves into a better place.
“I call it kindergarten for grown-ups. It’s really playful and encourages us to get in touch with our inner child,” she said.
Three years ago, the former journalist founded The Gap Laughter Club in Brisbane.
Ms Campbell said there is plenty of evidence pointing to the many health benefits of a good belly laugh.
“Little kids have got the right idea. The little, little ones, they’re laughing just because they can and they’re still excited by life,” she said.
Shelley Lloyd tweet: These people are laughing themselves to better health. @abcbrisbane https://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2019-10-11/laughter-yoga-health-benefits-no-stretch-says-brisbane-woman/11579068 #WMHD2019
“As we get older, we start to think that laughter has to have humour and comedy and we leave laughter to chance.”
Ms Campbell argues it’s no stretch to combine laughter and yoga.
Every Saturday morning, she teaches laughter yoga to dozens of people who gather in a park in Brisbane’s inner-west.
“It’s not just corny dad jokes and everyone sitting around having a giggle,” she said.
“It’s a unique concept devised by an Indian doctor and it brings together simulated laughter exercises, gentle stretches and clapping and the deep breath of yoga.
“By doing laughter yoga as an exercise, it’s no different really to doing a bicep curl, you’re harnessing your laughter muscles, your intercostal muscles, your diaphragm and you’re giving yourself a workout.”
In short, she believes laughter could indeed be the best medicine.
“Laughter is terrific medicine and we’ve got it in ourselves. It isn’t a silver bullet, it doesn’t solve everything, but my goodness it makes life a lot easier to take,” she said.
Laughter yoga was developed by Indian doctor Madan Kataria more than 20 years ago.
Members of The Gap Laughter Club are serious about improving health and happiness. (ABC News: Shelley Lloyd)
While working as a registrar in a Mumbai hospital, he became interested in how laughter could be used to improve health and cope with stress.
There are now more than 10,000 laughter yoga clubs around the world.
Ms Campbell trained with Dr Kataria in India three years go.
“He said to me that there was a lot of medicine in laughter, but he did not see of lot of laughter in medicine,” she said.
“He felt there was something missing in the way that people were being treated by doctors and he thought that a lot could be done to help people with anxiety by thinking more positively and by breathing better.
“That’s what laughter yoga helps us to do — breathe deeper, breathe more efficiently and to look on the bright side.”
‘Getting better with humour’
Brisbane doctor Paul Mercer regularly uses laughter as an alternative therapy in his bayside practice.
“I’ve discovered over a long career in general practice that the people who come to see me really enjoy sharing their humour with me and I’ve discovered that GPs become a collecting house for all of the jokes in the community,” Dr Mercer said.
“There is also a growing body of literature that there are significant positive health benefits of laughter therapy. People with heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, they all do better if they’re happier people with lots of humour in their life.”
He said laughter was also great for stress management.
“It’s not pure science that’s going to get us over the line, it’s what does it take to be take to be a human who is flourishing,” he said.
“Emotional well-being, of which laughter is a part, fits very neatly into that way of thinking. We need to be emotionally well, whole people to be healthy people.
“Laughter will increase your oxytocin levels and drop your cortisol, and they’re things that will make your body generally feel better, feel healthier and you’ll engage in life more effectively.”
Medical research has begun to track the association between humour and health.
In California in the 1960s, Stanford University pyschology professor Dr William F Fry published a number of landmark studies on the physiological processes that happen during laughter.
Dr Fry became the first self-proclaimed ‘gelotologist’ — an expert in the study of laughter and its effect on the body.
His studies found laughter provided good physical exercise, cut your chances of respiratory infection and also made your body produce endorphins or natural painkillers.
“Dr Fry found that 10 minutes of sustained hearty belly laughter was the cardio equivalent of 30 minutes on a rowing machine,” Ms Campbell said.
She said it had also helped her through some dark times.
“This year, personally, I lost someone someone very dear, a family member, and if I hadn’t been able to laugh as an exercise, I’d have been in a much darker place,” she said.
Ms Campbell said it was her dream to see laughter clubs in communities across Australia.
“It can feel silly and yes, you can feel like a goose and part of what it does it teaches us to not take ourselves quite so seriously,” she said.
“I mean, does it really matter if I’m having a giggle and someone has a laugh at me because I’m laughing … I’m not hurting anybody, I’m having a good time, it’s healthy and if it makes somebody else smile, hey, that’s good too.”
This week is Queensland Mental Health Week.