There's something we all do that can instantly make us feel better, but apparently, we don't do it enough: Laugh!
You may not have heard, but there's a whole movement building around laughter.
Even modern medicine is jumping onboard. Laughter Yoga is a phenomenon spreading around the world.
Laughter can be a powerful weapon against stress, disease, pain....even depression.
There are plenty of things that make us laugh, but some people think we can't wait for those magical moments. We have to make them ourselves.
Laughter Yoga does just that.
Watching a Laughter yoga club in action, you might think you would never do this. But wait until you hear what it might do for you!
Welcome to Laughter Yoga with Gita.
"Welcome, everybody. Thanks for coming," Gita Fendelman greets club members.
She is a former lawyer, former Hatha Yoga instructor, and she has Parkinson's disease.
"And now I teach Laughter Yoga," laughs Gita.
The club laughs. Gita laughs in the face of Parkinson's disease.
She was searching for help for her condition when she came upon the relatively new practice of laughter yoga.
"The study that attracted me was one out of Stanford that said laughter stimulates the part of the brain that uses dopamine. And because Parkinson's is characterized by low dopamine, I thought, 'I'm going to use that for my medicine,'" Gita says. "It's a great pain reliever, because it naturally lifts the body's endorphins."
"There are actually scientific studies nowadays that are proving that it strengthens the immune system. It's a cardiovascular workout. It's great if people are suffering from depression," she adds.
Club Member Mac McHenry has been coming to the Laughter Yoga Club for almost three years.
"It gets rid of a lot of tension and stuff that was in my body that I suffered when I was depressed about my cancer," he says.
But there's a method to what looks like madness.
Laughter yoga uses the deep breathing and deep relaxation of yoga, but not the poses -- so anyone can do it!
"I have emphysema. I'm hopeful I will improve, but I'm not sure. At least I'll have a lot of fun trying," says Frank DiPietro.
Judy Jacobs suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash.
She was depressed.
"The benefit that I was looking for was to help elevate my mood and I had no idea that another benefit would be increased memory," Jacobs says.
Laughter yoga's mission is joy, good health and world peace through laughter.
Some practitioners use it to teach conflict resolution and bullying prevention to young children.
"To look someone in the eye that we might not have been thinking such great things about, but then all of a sudden now we're just having fun together, and it brings us closer," says Instructor Emily Vance.
Some of the Laughter Yoga Club members were sent by their doctors.
And there are doctors who use the technique themselves, such as Dr. Gulshan Sethi a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Arizona.
"Some people just laugh," says Dr. Sethi. "I use laughter every day."
Dr. Sethi believes in laughter for himself and his patients. He calls it an internal massage for your organs.
"I take laughter very seriously. It's a very serious topic," he says. "It is a treatment to prevent the disease process. And if you have developed a disease like depression or heart disease, then it is beneficial for that."
Dr. Sethi says laughter increases the number of cells that attack disease.
If you are one of his heart surgery patients, you are going to learn to laugh.
"When you laugh, you clear your lung. You don't have to use any machine to expand the lungs," says Dr. Sethi. "My patients have noticed that it is easier to laugh than to use these extra machines."
And it doesn't even have to be real laughter.
Gita likes to say, "Fake it 'til you make it."
Dr. Sethi says laughter's effects happen immediately, and may stick around for at least a day. He has done research on laughter and he wants to do more, especially with veterans. As a veteran himself, he wants to reach out to the military and to the Veterans Administration to introduce laughter as a therapy.
"In the veterans who are coming back from Afghanistan, from Iraq, who are depressed. Their families have got problems and maybe this simple intervention may help them," says Dr. Sethi.
So how can you try this at home?
"What you do is you laugh a few seconds," explains Dr. Sethi. "Then you take some deep breathing. Then you stretch. Then you laugh again. And this is what yoga laughter therapy is all about."
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