Indians ′laugh until it hurts′ | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 30.06.2012
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Indians 'laugh until it hurts'

Recent studies bear evidence to the age-old saying that laughter is the best medicine. And the market for a good laugh has produced an increasing number of so-called 'laughter clubs.' But not everyone is amused.

Modern technology and science have provided cures for many illnesses and diseases. But these feats of our time can also be very costly.

According to an age-old saying, laughter is the best medicine. And now it has been scientifically proven that it helps in easing both physical and emotional pain.

Last September, a research project led by Professor Robin Dunbar, head of the University of Oxford's Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology,was conducted to scientifically determine the benefits of a good belly laugh.

Scientific proof

The researchers set out to study the effects of laughter on pain threshold by subjecting the volunteers - divided up into two groups - to mild pain while simultaneously showing them videos. The first group wasshown funny videos while experiencing extreme pressure from a blood pressure cuff, doing a painful quad workout and also wearing an "ice sleeve."

The other group underwent the same "torture" while watching more boring videos.

The research found the first group was able to withstand 10 percent more pain while laughing at their screens than the other.

Members of 'International Laughing Club' gesture and laugh as they participate in a function to celebrate World Laughers Day in Bangalore, India

World Laughter Day is the first Sunday of May every year

The researchers also found that different kinds of laughter had different effects; "We think it is necessary to engage in full 'belly laughter,'" says Professor Dunbar. "Polite titters (non-Duchenne laughter) is a sign of submission, and doesn't create this effect."

The reason that laughter helped people withstand pain, Professor Dunbar explained to DW, was that "laughter triggers endorphin activation, and it seems that endorphins tune the immune system. It enables us to respond better to diseases, surgery etc."

The saying "I laughed until it hurt," he continued, explained how the endorphins were released: "It seems to be extremely painful and it's that pain that produces the endorphin effect."

Bonding over laughter

Laughter, said Dunbar, was one of the mechanisms used by human beings to bond and form large social groups. No wonder then, that around the world, more and more so-called laughter clubs are appearing.

Dr. Madan Kataria

Dr. Madan Kataria founded the Laughter Yoga Movement

One such group was formed in the early 1990s in India and combines a laughter club with yoga. It is appropriately called Laughter Yoga International.

The members of the club gather early in the morning and then collectively laugh out loud.

"There are many (members) who are fighting a physical ailment or emotional turmoil, this artificial laughter therapy really helps to laugh off the pain," Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of the Laughter Yoga International club, told DW.

Not so funny

But laughter at times can be a reason for contention, too. Recently, in the western Indian city of Mumbai, a family of lawyers - 78-year-old Vinayak Shirsat; his son Shreeram Shirsat and his daughter-in-law Deepti Shirsat - filed a petition against a laughter club which used to meet outside their house. They claimed the noise the group made was an unbearable nuisance on the otherwise quiet mornings.

Mumbai's High Court ruled in their favor a couple of days ago and has asked the members of the laughter club "Sheetal Jogging Association" to stop it.

"I respect the court's decision," Kataria said. "Mumbai is a crowded place and there are hardly any open spaces. Public parks are situated close to residential buildings. If our laughter disturbs others, we should do it some other place. Our laughter should definitely not be the cause of someone else's agony."

Laughter clubs are there to cheer the mind, body and soul, but if it ends in a court battle, its whole purpose is defeated.

Author: Tanushree Sharma Sandhu
Editor: Sarah Berning

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