Laughter Thy Pain Medicine?
Updated: May 7
A few years ago I was visiting my older sister in India after concluding my annual volunteer medical trip there. She conducts free Yoga classes for her community in their local park. As someone who uses yoga as an exercise, and recommends it to her patients, I was excited to join her during a morning session to up my own yoga game!
After warm up and a few gentle stretches, she led us into savasana or the corpse pose, which is typically done as a concluding pose or after more rigorous exercise. Trying to tame my racing, puzzled mind, struggling to “be in the moment”, I attempted to focus on my breathing to align with the slow, gentle inhalation and exhalation of those around me. Then, the man next to me suddenly lets out a thunderous guffaw, followed by another person’s giggles in the group. Soon the entire group had joined in and the park was brimming with laughs—chortles and chuckles, hearty laughs and howling hoots. It wasn’t ANY yoga class, it was a Laughter Yoga. The rest of the time was filled with such eruptions, some spontaneous, some scripted. I must admit after the initial momentary confusion and surprise, it felt so normal, spontaneous and genuinely joyful. This was my first introduction to Laughter Yoga.
What was even more fascinating to me was my post yoga conversation with some of the community members who eagerly shared how this class was their favorite and how some of them had gone off their blood pressure medications, reduced weight, sleeping better, and improved back and joint pain as a result of it.
Although laughter forms an important part of human non-verbal communication, it has received rather less attention than it warrants especially for its health benefits. Amongst its many proposed benefits are -
Lowering blood pressure,
Fighting depression and anxiety, and
Ultimately making people into more positive thinkers.
I was, of course, intrigued about its pain relieving effects. So in this post I’ll take you with me to share what I found as I took a closer look at the analgesic effects of laughter.
So, what exactly does laughter do for pain??
Laughter Makes us Feel Less Pain
Patients allowed to watch comedy videos or comedy shows showed higher pain thresholds both in the lab and in natural conditions.
Laughter Makes our Bodies Produce its Own Analgesics (pain medications)
When allowed to watch comedy videos, patients required less pain medication than those who watched control videos. Laughter may exaggerate the opioid effects by triggering activation of the endorphin system, which are a class of endogenous opioid peptides produced in our central nervous system (CNS). They not only function as neurotransmitters but also play a crucial role in the management of pain through their analgesic properties.
Laughter Reduces Negative Emotions
Negative emotions impact the pain intensity and pain experience adversely. Laughter lowers levels of anxiety, daily stress and loneliness. These effects are mediated through β-endorphin and dopamine, the “feel good” hormone release.
Laughter Increases Social Bonding
One of the most common things I hear from my pain patients and families is often feeling very isolated, alone and as if no one else understands them or wants to be around them. Endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin released with laughter all contribute to the social connection and bonding. Also laughter is 30 times more likely to occur in company than when you are alone further highlighting the social bonding context.
Laughter Enhances Coping
When humor‐based coping strategies were taught to pain patients, they reported a higher sense of well-being, life satisfaction and had more positive affect.
Laughter Provides a Sense of Empowerment
Pain is one of the most disempowering conditions. Humor and laughter provide patients and families a sense of control over their situation and even their condition. They report feeling some sense of control over how they themselves can respond to their pain rather than only relying on medications or doctors.
Basically, laughter, even when done as a deliberate exercise basically preps our body and mind for happiness, which in turn leads to reduction in pain sensation, release of internal pain relief peptides, better mood, more social connection and thus a better pain control as well as an overall sense of well being!
Now this doesn't mean you need to run out searching for a laughter yoga class or a laughter club, in order to reap the benefits of laughter. Simply find your own way to include laughter in your and/or your child’s life, perhaps by reading, watching or listening to something comedic. Maybe you can even create your own friends and family comedy club!
Do you have a funny (or not so funny even) joke, video, movie or book that sends you into peels of laughter? Share in the comments and let’s laugh together!!