It’s the warm-up to a session of laughter yoga at the Delaware State Bar Association’s annual Women and the Law Section Retreat. After loosening up a bit, the lawyers spend 20 minutes practicing different types of laughs with Christa Scalies of Wilmington, a certified laughter yoga instructor.
There’s the Last Minute Brief laugh: laughing maniacally and pretending to type furiously while walking around the room and commiserating with others working on their briefs. There’s the We-Won-the-Case laugh: throwing arms in the air, using gestures of celebration and laughing, adding exuberant woohoos as seems fitting. And there are more.
Attorney Pam Meitner had never done laughter yoga before, never even heard of it, but the concept appealed to her. “I’ve read articles about laughter being good medicine, and I know that deep breathing helps you to relax and relieve tension,” she says. “It made sense that this was positive for my body.”
Laughter yoga dates to 1995, when it was popularized in India by Madan Kataria, a western-trained medical doctor from Mumbai. “Laughter yoga incorporates yogic breathing with laughter exercises, stretching and chanting,” Scalies explains. “Dr. Kataria’s exercises employ the technique ‘fake it until you make it.’ The body cannot tell the difference between real laughter and fake laughter. Both produce happy chemistry, or mood-boosting endorphins.”
Just how good laughter is for the body is something the medical community is only now beginning to understand. A popular movement recognizing the mental and physical benefits of laughter preceded the medical community’s embrace of laughter therapy by years, says Ph.D. psychologist Paul McGhee of Wilmington, a pioneer in laughter research and author of the just-released book “Humor: The Lighter Path to Resilience and Health.”
Research into the benefits of laughter falls under psychoneuroimmunology, or PNI, the study of the interaction between the nervous and immune systems and the relationship between behavior and health.
“The bottom line is that there is a physical basis for the mind-body connection,” McGhee says. “Emotion can drive either positive or negative effects. Building a positive focus in your life improves the body’s ability to fight off illness.”
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The field of laughter therapy dates back to the publication in 1979 of Norman Cousins’ seminal work “Anatomy of an Illness,” in which Cousins, who suffered from a serious illness called ankylosing spondylitis, noted that laughter afforded him a predictable measure of relief from his almost constant pain. Ten minutes of hearty laughter translated into two hours of freedom from pain.
After publication of Cousins’ book, researchers began serious study of laughter and pain reduction. From there the research branched out to include laughter’s ability to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. More recent studies have turned to the effect of laughter on specific illnesses.
Laughter, for example, promotes cardiac health in several ways. McGhee points to one study that put two groups of heart attack survivors through traditional cardiac rehab. One group also watched a comedy video three times a week. At the end of one year, the comedy-watching group had suffered significantly fewer additional heart attacks. They also had few episodes of cardiac arrhythmia and significantly lower blood pressures.
Further study identified more specifically why the comedy-watching patients fared better. As it turns out, laughter not only reduces “stress-linked cardiovascular reactivity,” it also “supports a healthy inner lining of arteries,” reduces levels of inflammatory cytokines and C-reactive proteins (which are markers of inflammation), and even reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Researchers are studying the benefits of humor and laughter for pulmonary illnesses, rheumatoid arthritis, skin allergies and diabetes, as well as for strengthening the immune system.
McGhee notes that nurses were the first medical professionals to give credence to the physical benefits of laughter. “Doctors are starting to get on board now that specific data is coming out,” he says. That’s not to say that all doctors were slow on the uptake. McGhee points to one Pennsylvania doctor who gives out laughter prescriptions to his patients. The 1998 movie “Patch Adams” made famous one doctor who used humor therapy, but the idea did not spread among the medical community as McGhee had expected.
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“When you start talking about these study results, many people will walk away and won’t want to listen to you,” McGhee says. “I admit that some of the research is surprising even to me.” He predicts that the current phase of humor research—linking laughter therapy with specific illnesses—will go on for another 10 years, with study after study replicating results before the medical community in general accepts the findings.
Still, humor therapy is catching on. Visiting clowns are fairly common in hospitals, and not just for pediatric patients. Some hospitals have humor carts that deliver funny audiotapes and videotapes, cartoon books, games and other laughter-inducing materials to patients.
Bayhealth Medical Center, which operates Kent General Hospital and Milford Memorial Hospital, does not have dedicated humor carts, but the library cart always includes some comic books, says Jane Hewitt of Bayhealth’s Guest Relations Department. “Someone gave us a stack of Garfield books, and those went really fast,” says Hewitt, who also posts cartoons and funny emails on bulletin boards in the hospitals’ cafeterias so employees and visitors can get a laugh as well.
“Our philosophy is that we are taking care not just of the ailment but of the whole patient—and their families as well,” she says. “Laughter releases good endorphins and helps with the healing process.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children has the widest variety of offerings to help patients smile. The hospital has eight child-life specialists charged with addressing the psychosocial and emotional needs of patients and families. Five work full time with inpatients, and three part-timers cover the emergency room.
“We tend to incorporate humor and laughter for rapport-building,” says child-life specialist Laura Mitchell. “When the child is laughing and we are laughing, it lets the patient and the family know that we are nonthreatening. And if a patient is more relaxed, medications work better. We get to know who likes silly jokes, who enjoys sarcasm and who likes teasing.”
Inpatients also have access to A.I.’s Child Life Activity Center, a large playroom with an array of entertainment for kids of all ages. The hospital recently added a new closed-circuit television station, The Get Well Network, with online gaming, Internet access and movies on demand. Magicians, clowns, face painters, puppeteers and other entertainers will sometimes visit the hospital to give free performances.
Humorous storyteller Clem Bowen is one of the more popular performers at Lorelton Nursing Home in Wilmington, according to activities director Kathy Latham. Storytellers also are popular at Active Day of Newark, a day-care facility for older adults, many of whom have dementia. Clients there also enjoy clowns and balloon animals, says center director Michelle Hood.
“Our program manager tries to incorporate laughter into many activities. Sometimes she’ll just break out in laughter and encourage others to join in.” Hood says. “I think for all of us, the more we laugh, the happier we are.”
Happier and healthier. —Theresa Gawlas Medoff
Page 4: Laugh More–It’s Easy
So you’re convinced of the healing benefits of laughter, but your life isn’t all that funny. How do you go about incorporating laughter into your daily routine?
Page 4: Light Makes Right | A new laser could reduce your chronic pain.
A new laser could reduce your chronic pain.
Looking for a unique treatment for injury and chronic pain that doesn’t involve surgery or drugs? Laser therapy has been changing the way healthcare practitioners treat musculoskeletal problems.
Now a Newark-based company has become a major player in the next generation of laser therapy. LiteCure is the developer and manufacturer of the LCT-1000, a class IV laser. Class IV lasers are about 50 times stronger than their class III predecessors, says LiteCure founder and CEO Dr. Brian Pryor. The power allows for deeper tissue penetration in a shorter amount of time.
Medical outcomes result from the interaction of light with tissue at the cellular level. Such biostimulation increases cellular energy and blood flow, creating a healing environment that reduces swelling, muscle spasms, stiffness and pain.
The LCT-1000 improves results for conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and the cervical spine, Pryor says.
He estimates there are about 2,000 units in use by veterinarians, chiropractors and major sports teams. — Christine Facciolo
Page 5: Doctor’s Orders | Harjinder Grewal, cardiologist, Dover
Harjinder Grewal, cardiologist, Dover
This Valentine’s Day, make sure your heart will keep going pitter patter without going kerplunk. Get in the know. Knowing your blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, and blood sugar level will help you assess your overall heart health. —Christine Facciolo