if they could bottle a hearty chuckle or a giggle fit, drug companies would certainly want to market it. The euphoric warmth that tickles your insides after a good yuk can trigger more than pleasure and goodwill -- it can be a powerful tonic for healing physical maladies from chronic pain to the winter blahs.Studies show that laughter not only lowers blood pressure and stress hormones, but also increases our pain threshold, boosts our immune system and in one minute can give a workout to our lungs, abs and heart equivalent to 15 minutes of cycling. Some call laughter internal jogging.
Many healers, mainstream and otherwise, are experimenting with the ha-ha elixir. Comic videos are being played in recovery rooms after heart surgery and chemotherapy treatments. And there have been good results dosing with humour for allergies and arthritis.
One allopathic doctor in India, Madan Kataria, is renowned for his unique fusion of yoga and humour. He has pioneered the creation of over 900 laughter clubs worldwide, including a few in Ontario. Kataria, who incorporates the benefits of yoga's deep breathing, postures and meditation into all-out laugh-fests, swears it helps members lick depression, anxiety, heart disease, bronchitis and colds.
Stress management workshops are tickling the funny bone to help recovering addicts and those suffering from depression. And some corporate team-building seminars use the yuk factor to increase productivity and efficiency.
But why do we need so much coaching to laugh? One study found that children do it about 400 times a day, while adults only about 15. Layers of socialization and cynicism, it seems, have crusted over our innate comedic urge.
While we try to relearn how to chuckle from the heart, for centuries native cultures have given comic figures centre stage in their mythology and sacred rituals.
Medicine men are entrusted with the task of enacting the playful antics of ceremonial clowns in the Southwest.
The traditional trickster, a teasing comical figure found in Cree, Hopi and Pueblo mythology, serves to challenge and subvert boundaries.
To maintain healing levity, try becoming your own private trickster, challenging your own assumptions, ridiculing your personal foibles and making fun of life's absurdities.
Our bodies crave the deep intestinal relief of convulsive laughter. Let silliness rule.
"As a doctor of humour, I don't give medicine to people. My medication is laughter. I perform open-heart surgery without an operation, getting people to lighten up, live in the now and laugh from their hearts, not their heads. Our society is so dreadfully serious."
PHELA GOODSTEIN, humour therapist, doctor of humour and founder of the World Humour Institute
"According to the principles of yoga, laughter gives constant massage to our digestive tract and improves the blood supply to all the internal organs. Laughter stimulates blood circulation, which helps to transport nutrients all over the body. And it strengthens our respiratory apparatus, which supplies oxygen to our body."
MADAN KATARIA, physician and pioneer of international laughter yoga clubs
"We contextualize laughter and respond mostly to jokes, but we don't use laughter or smiling as a way of interacting with people. When Zen monks laugh, their whole body kind of smiles and chuckles. Laughter is also used in the grieving process during aboriginal mortuary ceremonies. Any sign of grief means the spirit won't go away but will come back and stick around, so they try to tell jokes and cheer each other up during the whole performance."
DAVID TURNER, professor of anthropology, U of T
"For native cultures, humour is a survival mechanism. Laughter is considered very life-affirming, restorative and regenerating, particularly of cultural self-esteem. Modern artists are using humour as a catalyst for creating dialogue between natives and non-natives."
ALLAN J. RYAN, New Sun Chair in aboriginal art and culture, Carlton University
"Emotionally, laughter it can be very calming. I don't know if we comedians can heal anything permanently, but we're a good temporary fix."
MAGGIE CASSELLA, comedian
"Even if you don't feel like smiling, fake it, because your body doesn't know the difference. That configuration on your face triggers a lot of physiology that has you feeling better, increasing killer cells and releasing a lot of endorphins, your homemade feel-good chemicals."
CLIFFORD C. KUHN, professor of psychiatry at the University of Kentucky and laugh doctor