Friday, July 31, 2009

Laughter is the best medicine

FUNNY BUSINESS: Diane Conner, MS, RN, CDE, left, of MGH Senior HealthWISE, shakes hands with Malloy during one of the laughter exercises.

Those walking by the Thier Conference Room during the afternoon of July 24 may have heard something unexpected from behind the closed doors: uproarious laughter.

Led by Laura Malloy, LICSW, the gigglers were part of a group of approximately 30 individuals participating in a session of "laughter yoga," a growing trend in integrative medicine that combines hearty laughter with relaxed, yoga-style breathing. Developed in India in 1995 by Madan Kataria, MD, the practice initially took the form of a small group that met and shared jokes in a park on a regular basis. Since then, it has grown into 6,000 laughter clubs in 60 countries.

At the MGH, Malloy, director of yoga programs and a certified laughter yoga teacher at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at MGH, is considered the giggle guru. She discovered laughter yoga at a local laughter yoga club in Wakefield, Mass., and began offering classes at the MGH this spring.

All laughter aside, however, this particular form of yoga is based on serious science.

"Laughter yoga has been shown to decrease stress hormone levels while boosting the immune system, releasing endorphins and increasing levels of antiviral and anti-infection cells," says Malloy. "People leave class feeling happy, relaxed and alert. It also provides a good cardio and core workout."

Participants don’t have to be contortionists or comedians to partake. They can either sit or stand while an instructor guides them through a series of laughter exercises using simple, playful techniques rather than humor to induce chuckles.

"Studies have shown that this type of 'fake it till you make it' laughter has the same benefits of 'real' laughter," says Malloy. "The body doesn’t differentiate between the two."

While Malloy is bringing laughter to the main MGH campus, Donna Peltier-Saxe, RN, MSN, ACM, a project director at MGH Community Health Associates, is working to bring the program to all of the MGH health care centers. She initially introduced laughter yoga to patients participating in the MGH Revere and Chelsea health care centers' Happy Heart programs, which seek to improve the health of women at risk for cardiac disease. She's also working with the Chelsea and Charlestown health care centers to incorporate laughter yoga programs for their staff members.

The next laughter yoga class at the MGH will be held Sept. 14 from 12:15 to 1 pm in the Thier Conference Room. For more information or to register, call Lauren Sussman at 617-724-3119. The registration fee is $10.

Find more information about yoga at the MGH, including laughter yoga

Back to Top