So many individuals have contributed towards modern therapeutic laughter with more research continuing within this topic. It is beyond our ability to list each and everyone within this very important trail. Here we have listed but a few to set the scene.
Laughing Buddha, ancient legend
His mission was to spread joy; he believed in the healing power of laughter with its capacity to change our body’s internal chemistry to produce the “feel good” chemicals. He wanted to teach people that the problem(s) of life appear big because we associate with them and refer to them as “my problem(s). However we do have a choice of putting our “bag load of problem(s)” down and look at it from a distance (i.e. dis-associate instead of clinging to them). He believed laughter along with playfulness is a form of relaxation; and may help us to look at our problem(s) from a bird’s eye point of view with a different perspective, helping us in our effort to find an alternative solution. Along with this he also wanted people to experience the beauty of sharing unconditional love and joy without any expectations or recognitions in return; whilst appreciating the value of contentment, generosity, wisdom and open heartedness to realise that our essence within also connects with all beings.
Dr Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (du Boulogne), Neurologist
He was interested in electropuncture in the 18th Century, and had developed an interest in muscular diseases that later earned him a reputation of an outstanding neurologist. He developed techniques of the meticulous neurological examination and became a great pioneer of electro physiology. Within his study for physiology of movements he studied the mechanism of facial emotions and determined that smiles resulting from true happiness use muscles of the eyes as well as those of the mouth.
Dr William F Fry, Psychiatrist, Stanford University, California
He is considered the father of “gelotology” (the science of laughter) after he began to examine the physiological effects of laughter in the late 1060s. He demonstrated that most of the body’s major physiological systems are stimulated by mirthful laughter. He proved that mirthful laughter causes our body to produce endorphins (natural pain killers) and can decrease your chances of respiratory infections.
Dr Hunter (Patch) Adams, MD
He inspired million of people by bringing fun and laughter back into the hospital world. He believes humour and play are essential to physical and emotional health. He is the founder and director of the Gesundheit Institute, a holistic medical community that has been providing free medical care to thousands of patients since 1971. Every year he also organises for groups of volunteers worldwide to travel to various countries as therapeutic care clowns.
Annette Goodheart, PhD
She was a well established and internationally recognised Laughter Therapist. Though her first career was as an Artist she missed the company of other people, so in the 1970s she embarked on her new career with counselling and workshops in cathartic laughter and went onto to writing her book titled “Laughter Therapy: How to laugh at everything in your life that isn’t funny”. She worked with individual, clinics, hospitals, churches and prisons to name but a few.
Norman Cousins, celebrated writer of his book “Anatomy of Illness” in 1979
He is described as a man who started the laughter health craze in this century. He discovered benefits of laughter along with other positive emotions and a good diet helped him to battle his illness of ankylosing spondylitis he contracted in 1964. He found for example ten minutes of good belly laughter game him two hours of pain free sleep. His story inspired the scientific community and led to a number of research projects.
Dr Lee Berk, PhD, Loma Linda University Medical Center
He was inspired by Norman Cousins and led a team of researchers from the field of psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI) to study the physical impact of mirthful laughter. They studied heart attack patients and learnt that the group of patients that watched humorous videos for thirty minutes daily for a year had fewer arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), lower blood pressure, lower stress levels and required lower doses of medication in comparison to the control group.
Dr Kataria, MD, Founder of Laughter Yoga
In 1995, while writing and researching for his article “Laughter – The Best Medicine” for a health journal, he discovered many scientific studies that described in great detail the numerous benefits of laughter. He was particularly impressed by Norman Cousins’s book “Anatomy of Illness” and the research work carried out by Dr Lee Berk. On 13th March 1995, this inspiration along with his own enthusiasm gave him the reason to field-test the impact of laughter on himself and others. After a few days of trial and error with his new found Laughter Group in a Mumbai Park he realised the jokes were not only becoming stale but were also proving offensive to some participants. So he was faced with the task of either terminating or redeveloping his idea.
That night, with further research, he found the answer he was looking for, our body cannot differentiate between acted and genuine laughter; both produced the same “happy chemistry”. It is the emptying of stale air from the bottom of our lungs and vigorous movements of the diaphragm resulting from laughter that signals the nervous system to release mood boosting endorphins. He also found that in order to gain the scientifically proven benefits of laughter, it needed to be deep and loud coming from the diaphragm and lasting at least 10 to 15 minutes. With his wife as a yoga teacher, he also valued the benefits of deep yogic breathing.
So he initiated a way of merging laughter with some elements of role play, the importance of childlike playfulness and deep yogic breathing techniques to give birth to his brain child “Laughter Yoga” where participants can laugh without relying on any jokes or comedy. And today there are tens of thousands of Laughter Clubs worldwide with ever more research being carried out on the health benefits of laughter.
One of Dr Kataria’s famous saying is “I have no deadlines in my life; I only work with lifelines”.
Professor Sophie Scott, Deputy Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience of the University College London
She has been researching neuroscience of voice, speech and laughter. In 2010 she led a study titled “emotions are a universal language” and are easily recognisable by all. They found laughter is one sound particularly well recognised across the board and it is physically contagious.
Professor Robin Dunbar, Oxford University
He led a study in 2011 on social laughter. This study also tested the pain thresholds of the volunteers. They found that those participants who had recently experienced belly laughter were able to bear up to 10% more pain than they had done before watching the funny videos.
He believes it is the uncontrollable laughter that releases chemicals called endorphins into our body which generates mild euphoria and dulls pain. He stated “it is the emptying of the lungs that causes this effect”. Hence when we laugh until it hurts, it is that very pain that produces the endorphin effect.