Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Laughter As Medicine

This past weekend we ushered at our local community theater and heard Brett Leake turn the challenges and problems in life into humor. We really do need more laughter in our lives. I remembered an article I had written six (6) years ago and realized we all need a reminder, so here it is:

Laughter As Medicine
by Donna L. Watkins

God's Word says: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22)

The original Hebrew definitions:

merry = blithe, gleeful, be glad, joyful, making merry
medicine = a cure

The word for medicine is used only once in Hebrew in the entire Old Testament. I thought that was very interesting. We see that a joyful heart cures, while a broken spirit kills. Did you know that the marrow in our bones has a lot to do with our immune system functioning to keep us alive? You've heard of "bone marrow transplants" for some diseases of the immune system. They are learning more about the Truth of Scripture every day in the field of medicine.

Norman Cousins is best known for bringing these facts to light. He was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative auto-immune disease of the connective tissue. Cousins, former editor of the US Saturday Review, stopped taking drugs and self-prescribed a new regime of pain killers. When the pain became unbearable, Cousins would watch videos of Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. Fifteen minutes of giggling could provide him with up to two hours of pain relief. This increase of pain threshold during and after laughing episodes has since been confirmed in studies.

People, doctors and health care workers are finding that laughter may indeed be the best medicine. Laughing removes stress hormones, and boosts immune function by raising levels of T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon, and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies.

Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain killers, and produces a general sense of well-being. Hospitals are incorporating laughter therapy programs into their therapeutic recommendations. The threshold of pain is raised during and for a short period of time after laughter.

Laughter engages various parts of the brain. Derks from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg showed that humor pulls the various parts of the brain together rather than activating a component in only one area. Perhaps this is one reason why people often find that a dose of lengthy laughter can be followed by a burst of creativity and group problem solving.

Laughter is also a good cardiovascular workout. It increases the activity of the heart and stimulates circulation. In addition, after the laughter subsides, the cardiovascular system goes into a state of relaxation.

In 1995, a new organization emerged in Bombay, India: Laughter Club International. This was the brain child of Dr. Madan Kataria, a Bombay physician who believes that laughter is good for the heart and soul. Participants gather in the morning for the sole purpose of laughing. Humor is a universal language. It's a contagious emotion and brings other people in to break down barriers. It's also free and has no known side reactions.

Being in the natural health industry for 20 years, I had heard of Norman Cousins before. I was recently reminded of him after an evening of laughter. Since rheumatoid arthritis is one of my health challenges, I'm familiar with pain. My husband and I had decided to give ballroom dancing another try. I have always loved dancing, but after getting married and trying many months of Arthur Murray lessons, I realized that dancing was something not to be placed on the list of benefits received from the marriage partnership. No great loss, considering the long list of other benefits I received.

We're going to be celebrating our 25th anniversary in April and there's a group of folks that get together in our community at the clubhouse to dance. The couple that began it all teaches for free and it's a very relaxed, fun group. I figured I'd give it another try. Although 24 years later, I didn't have much hope of really dancing, but decided that I would consider it great exercise as long as I didn't get my toes stepped on.

I was amazed to find that Randal picked up the steps as fast as the man could show them. I was giddy with laughter through the whole evening, just for the sheer humor of what God does in the little details of my life. My husband commented that it was a real workout since more muscles were hurting than when he played tennis. I expected to pay the price the next day, but knew it was worth it.

Much to my amazement, I slept great and awoke early with so much energy that by 9 AM I had accomplished what usually took me till noon to do. I knew I was having one of those "terrific days" that you'd like to can and spoon feed to yourself daily. They usually come for me in the early days of Spring when you feel so alive from everything bursting forth with life.

I didn't think about where it came from until I saw an article on "humor therapy," and then I realized what had happened from that event. My laughter had indeed stimulated all kinds of good things for my body and the effects were amazing! Needless to say, we will continue dancing, although I will probably have to find another source for laughter, since I can't laugh myself silly throughout each dance session.

Norman Cousins wrote a book: Anatomy Of An Illness

For more research and information on laughter as medicine, visit this website and look for the "Healing Laughter Series" section of articles near the bottom.

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