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The healing power of laughter

Have you ever noticed how much better you feel after a good old belly laugh? Even on the bleakest of days, a good giggle helps us feel more positive in our outlook and more comfortable in our skin – laughter helps to release endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers. Much has been written about how these ‘feel-good’ hormones can be triggered by exercise, alternative therapies such as acupuncture, and of course, chocolate (!) but research also suggests we can also get these handy little chemicals pinging around our bodies by laughing. When we smile, even if it’s forced at first, it changes our mood for the better as the smile turns into laughter that is real and authentic. Indeed, stress, high blood pressure and chronic conditions such as arthritis can all be positively affected by the power of laughter, and it seems this is something we know instinctively: human beings will often employ humour as a coping tool in times of stress because we understand it to be a useful way to relieve tension in the body.

Laughter also increases the number of antibodies and T cells in the body, building a stronger immune system. Perhaps one of the best-documented cases of the power laughter can have on our health is that of writer Norman Cousins, who, in 1964, was diagnosed with a degenerative spinal disease and given a one in 500 chance of survival. He self-prescribed comedy shows, such as Candid Camera and Marx Brothers films, and discovered that increasingly, he was able to have longer and longer periods of pain-free sleep, which he put down to the laughter-induced chemicals his body was producing. Eventually, his condition went into remission.

So if laughter really is the best medicine, how can we inject a little more of it into our daily lives? We all find different things funny so what’s important is to discover what makes you laugh – it could be a funny memory or online video, or a photo on your phone that has you in stitches – and make time for it, every single day. A daily practice such as laughter yoga, which combines laughter with deep breathing exercises, is a brilliant way to add positivity to your day, too, and has the added benefit of strengthening the body as well as lifting your mood. Laughter yoga was created in 1995 by Dr Madan Kataria, an Indian medical doctor (known is some circles as the Guru of Giggling) who believed that creating a safe space for laughing – loudly and without restraint – harmonised the mind and body, leading to a more positive outlook, reduced stress, a stronger immune system and better heart health. It uses the deep breathing exercises found in more traditional yoga practice (hence the name) to really oxygenate the body and the brain, so promotes a feeling of calm relaxation and a greater sense of wellbeing.

It’s also a great way to connect with others. Laughing together is a very bonding experience that encourages childlike, playful behaviour that for many of us is a million miles away from our normal, ‘adult’ selves – and importantly, it allows us to leave our egos at the door and stop caring about what others think of us. All classes are different but will generally include greeting each other with a laughter exercise (sometimes introducing yourself using made-up gibberish rather than actual words), responding to the class leader as they clap, laugh and encourage the flow of positive energy, and learning to laugh together, as you match the heartiness, tone and volume of your laughing partner (turns out laughter is contagious!) You’ll come away feeling happier and lighter in your heart and soul, with increased optimism for the future – laughter has the most amazing transformational properties. And the beauty of what you learn here, at Bryn Tanat Wellness, is that you can use those skills whenever you feel you need a boost. No-one ever said no to more laughter in their lives and our experts are delighted to help you access all that positive emotion to draw on over the weeks, months and years ahead. As we like to say, laughter is too important to leave to chance!