Laughter Yoga and Laughter Therapy
About Those Who Paved the Way
by Sebastien Gendry

Dr Hans SelyeHans Selye (born Selye János, Vienna, January 26, 1907 - Montreal, October 16, 1982). As with so many wondrous discoveries of science and medicine, it was by chance that Hungarian-born Hans Selye stumbled upon the idea of the General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S.), which he first wrote about in the British journal Nature in the summer of 1936. The G.A.S., alternately known as the stress syndrome, is what Selye came to call the process under which the body confronts "stress" (what he first called "noxious agents"). In the G.A.S., Selye explained, the body passes through three universal stages of coping. First there is an "alarm reaction," in which the body prepares itself for "fight or flight." No organism can sustain this condition of excitement, however, and a second stage of adaptation ensues (provided the organism survives the first stage). In the second stage, a resistance to the stress is built. Finally, if the duration of the stress is sufficiently long, the body eventually enters a stage of exhaustion, a sort of aging "due to wear and tear."

"Stress," in Selye's lexicon, could be anything from prolonged food deprivation to the injection of a foreign substance into the body, to a good muscular workout; by "stress," he did not mean only "nervous stress," but "the nonspecific response of the body to any demand." He claimed that it is not stress that harms us but distress (the state of being in mental or physical anguish).

Selye's breakthrough ideas about stress helped to forge an entirely new medical field - the study of biological stress and its effects - which blossomed through the middle part of the twentieth century to include the work of thousands of researchers, and it is a science that continues to make advances today by connecting stress to illness and discovering new ways to help the body efficiently deal with life's wear and tear. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize 10 times.

Norman Cousins Norman Cousins (June 24, 1915 – November 30, 1990), the man who started the laughter health craze in the 20th century, was editor of the Saturday Review for over thirty years, and has written numerous books including Anatomy of an Illness. In August 1964, Cousins came home from a meeting in Moscow with a fever and feeling achy all over. Within a week he could not move and his sedimentation rate was up to 88. The sedimentation rate relates to how much infection is in the body and a sed. rate of 60 to 70 is thought to be very high. He was eventually diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which is a collagen illness that attacks the connective tissues of the body. He once said it felt as if he was being pulled apart at the joints. The doctors told him it was probably caused from exposure to heavy-metal poisoning, so he began to think of when he could have been exposed. The only thing he could remember was that his hotel in Moscow was next to a major highway where diesel trucks passed all night long, and since there was no air in the room, he had kept the windows open all the time. However, his wife was with him, and she did not become sick. He started reading material about stress and how it can wear down your immune system. He came across a book by Hans Selye called The Stress of Life that proposed the theory that negative emotions cause stressful and harmful effects on the body. He hypothesized that if the bad emotions do harmful things, then the good emotions should be helpful or healthful.

At the time the hospital was mostly trying to keep Cousins out of pain since there was no cure or treatment for his disease. He was being given the maximum amount of aspirins (26) and phenylbutazone (12) every day, along with sleeping pills and codeine. Realizing that that amount of medicine was very toxic, he decided to try laughter. He moved home and hired a nurse to oversee his medical treatment. His nurse also showed him Marx Brothers films and read humorous stories and books to him. Within days he was off of all pain killers and sleeping pills and discovered that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep. He wrote an article in the New England Journal of Medicine about his findings in laughter and was greatly criticized. He never once claimed that laughter had been the only factor in his healing process, but said that it had aided in his recovery by relieving pain. Despite the criticism, he stood by his claims, and was finally vindicated in January 27, 1989, when the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article entitled "Laugh If This Is a Joke." The author of that article, Lars Ljungdahl, concluded that "a humor therapy program can increase the quality of life for patients with chronic problems and that laughter has an immediate symptom-relieving effect for these patients, an effect that is potentiated when laughter is induced regularly over a period".

Psychiatrist William F. FryPsychiatrist William F. Fry from Stanford University, CA, began to examine the physiological effects of the laughter in the late 60's and is considered the father of "Gelotologie" (science of laughter). He demonstrated that most of the major physiologic systems of the body are stimulated by mirthful laughter. One of his most famous study showed that 20 seconds of intense laughter, even if faked, can double the heart rate for three to five minutes, an accomplishment that would take three minutes of strenuous rowing exercise. Dr Fry proved that with mirthful laughter you get good physical exercise, you can decrease your chances of respiratory infections, and your body produces endorphins (natural painkillers.)

When Dr Lee Berk first started suggesting that humor and laughter could change one's physiology, the medical community literally laughed at him. Today, major medical organizations, such as the Society for Neuroscience and the Endocrine Society, often call upon him to share his findings. Though the concept has been around for centuries, Dr Berk is among the few to confirm through medical science that happiness is, indeed, good for you.

Much of his research was funded by the late Norman Cousins who stirred interest in the field after publishing his book, "Anatomy of an Illness." Cousins, who had ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that causes the disintegration of the spinal connective tissue, found that watching humorous videos could produce two hours of pain-free sleep. Through his self-designed humor treatments, he eventually completely reversed the illness.

"For the most part, when you go and get medical treatment, a clinician is not necessarily going to tell you to take two aspirins and watch Laurel and Hardy," says Berk. "But the reality is that's where we are and it's more real than ever. There's a real science to this. And it's as real as taking a drug."

His numerous carefully controlled scientific studies showed that laughter boosts the body's immune system by releasing beneficial hormones and decreases stress hormones that can lead to disease. His research also suggested that laughing can lower blood pressure, be aerobic for the heart and elevate moods by letting off endorphins. "My goodness, if you bottled it all up in a pill, you'd need FDA approval," he says.

Dr Lee Berk
Dr Hunter (Patch) Adams Dr Hunter (Patch) Adams, inspired millions by bringing fun and laughter back into the hospital world and putting into practice the idea that "healing should be a loving human interchange, not a business transaction" for more than 30 years. He is the founder and director of the Gesundheit Institute, a holistic medical community that has provided free medical care to thousands of patients since it began in 1971. He is the catalyst for the creation of thousands of therapeutic hospital clowns groups worldwide.

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