Posted by: Thixia | March 27, 2008

Healing Power of Laughter 1 of 3

It was the only thing that seemed to kill the pain.  Cousins would start Laugh until it stops hurting

health benefits leads to Laughter Yoga movement

The guests at a Manhattan hotel must have thought they had checked into a madhouse.  It was 1964, and day and night they could hear a man laughing uproariously.  Stranger still, he seemed to be on some kind of schedule.  What could be so funny?

Nothing perhaps.  Fifty-year-old Norman Cousins was laughing to save his life

Cousins, the respected editor of the Saturday Review, had been given six months to live.  He’d been diagnosed with life-threatening ankylosing spondylitis, a painful, degenerative disease of the spine.  Cousins, who was in constant agony and quickly succumbing to paralysis, checked himself out of the hospital, which in his view “was no place for sick people” and into a hotel where under the supervision of a doctor, he began taking extremely high doses of vitamin C punctuated by a regimen of intense belly laughter.

Why laughter?

Laughing by watching Marx Brothers movies and Candid Camera episodes on a rented projector.  After several months, and day after day of laughter, Cousins walked out of the hotel.  In the years since then, vitamin C would be discredited, but laughter, it turns out, is another story.

Cousins’ “laughing cure” was greeted by the medical establishment with derision.  Cousins wrote a book about his experience, Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient.  Although the book helped launch the holistic health movement, decades would pass before medical researchers reopened the curious case of the Laughing Man.

In 1995, in Bombay, now Mumbai, a young gastroenterologist came across Cousins’ story in a medical journal.  Dr. Madan Kataria — a dour and, in his own words, humourless professional — fished around in people’s guts for a living.  But when he read about Cousins, he decided to do something crazy.

At seven the next morning, he went to a local park and was able to gather a few people for what he called a “laughter club.”  The small group grew quickly.  Each day they’d tell each other jokes to try and produce laughter as a health routine.  But a few days in, a sad thing happened.  People were running out of jokes, and instead were offending each other with off-colour and sexist humour.  Kataria’s experiment was, in his words, a bit of a “flop.”

That night Kataria had an epiphany.  The people at the laughter club were fixated on a reason to laugh, a joke, a story.  What if he removed the reason?

The next day, Kataria gathered the now miserable group, and told them they didn’t need a reason to laugh.  According to Kataria, some of them burst out laughing.  Kataria learned that you could gather a group of people together, tell them to laugh and they could just start laughing.  If someone hesitated, he would say: “Fake it.”

While the laughing was initially forced, it would almost seem to build magically into the real thing.  Laughter is naturally contagious and by simply laughing, people were “fooling” their own bodies into laughing along.  And soon the whole group would be laughing madly.  Kataria’s discovery of managed, contagious laughter — a new form of laughter — marked the creation of Laughter Yoga, an awkward-sounding health craze that has now spread to 40 countries and counting.

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