Interview with Dave Berman, co-author of Laughter for the Health of It
My guest today is Dave Berman, co-author of the recently released Laughter for the Health of It.
JB: Welcome back to OpEdNews, Dave. What's your book about?
DB: Laughter For the Health Of It is about laughing on purpose because it feels good and it is good for us. This concept started quickly spreading around the world in 1995 when a cardiologist in India named Dr. Madan Kataria created laughter yoga. It is now practiced at over 10,000 free laughter clubs in at least 100 countries, plus multiple times each day on Skype and by phone. There is a lot of research cited in the book showing laughter has many health benefits, even when it is intentional, or unconditional - as opposed to conditional laughter that depends on jokes or humor.
My co-author, Kelley T. Woods, and I are both hypnotherapists and both incorporate laughter and playfulness into working with clients. So in the book we explain how the same mind/body principles are responsible for hypnosis and the health benefits of laughing. We provide instructions for readers to be able to do lots of laughter "exercises" on their own, and we offer tips for therapists to learn how to bring unconditional laughter into their work with clients. We approached Dr. Kataria with our concept and he liked it so much he wrote the foreword and granted us an interview that is transcribed in the final chapter.
JB: Tell us more about Dr. Kataria, please.
DB: You know, at the start of every laughter yoga class, we always tell the brief story of how Dr. Kataria created laughter yoga in a park in Mumbai, India with just five people the first time. They told jokes. After a few days of this, it turned raunchy and nasty. People began to lose interest. But Dr. K then quickly discovered already existing research about the biological changes that occur when we laugh. He didn't necessarily frame it as being about the mind/body connection as we do in Laughter For the Health of It, but that did account for the shift to laughing unconditionally with the people in the park. The next thing he knew, there was media coverage all over the world and laughter yoga just took off to become the health craze it is today.
Prior to interviewing him, that was really about all I knew. When I talked to him, I learned what a huge heart he has. Dr. Kataria is an exemplar of a humanitarian. He's created something that will sustain beyond his lifetime and benefit all who experience it, especially since laughter yoga is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels, and requires no special equipment, clothing or prior experience. His focus now is bringing unconditional laughter programs into schools, prisons and businesses.
JB: Dr. K, both a family practitioner and a keen observer, noticed that while life in his tiny village was full of laughter and joy, in the city, people had stopped laughing. He's dedicated to addressing that loss and he's spent years traveling all over the world setting up those Laughter Yoga programs.
Let's start at the beginning. How can this be yoga if poses and postures are not involved?
DB: It is true that laughter yoga does not involve poses and postures, just laughing and breathing. When you laugh, your diaphragm rises and falls. During a laughter yoga class, we also bring conscious attention to breathing between laughter exercises. All combined, the laughter and breathing actually creates the equivalent of a gentle cardio workout.
In addition, just as traditional forms of yoga encourage looking inward and tend to facilitate peacefulness, balance and calm, so too does laughter yoga have an emotional impact. When you develop a regular practice of unconditional laughter, it becomes more natural and even automatic to respond with laughter to things that might have previously triggered frustration, anger or other less desirable emotional responses. The stretches and poses of traditional yoga can help develop more physical flexibility while laughter yoga leads to greater emotional flexibility and emotional intelligence.
To get started at a laughter yoga class, people are encouraged to leave their inhibitions at home and show up with childlike playfulness. This is challenging to some people but once the class begins it becomes much easier because laughter is contagious, like yawning. That's based on the the presence of "mirror neurons" in the brain that lead us to mimic certain things we observe.
Another thing the brain does automatically when laughing is produce oxytocin, often referred to as the bonding hormone because it is also stimulated during breast feeding, hugs and other intimate exchanges. As a result of increased oxytocin, people who laugh together often feel an affinity for each other, even though laughter yoga classes typically don't provide the opportunity for get-to-know-you chit chatting. Such bonding through laughter is a valuable benefit in many settings, including residential facilities for older adults and in therapeutic relationships.
JB: There is a level of self-consciousness at least at first, to be sure. I have read about this for a number of years. I was fascinated to learn that there was (and maybe still is) a laughter hotline which you could call virtually every hour on the hour throughout the day and there would be a facilitator who would lead a half-hour of laughter yoga. It was fun and I remember feeling lighter throughout that day. It has a remarkably wide range of applications, from simply elevating our mood to alleviating pain. Can you talk about that a bit?