Friday, 11 April 2014

LAUGHTER



One morning, just after waking up, i started laughing; i laughed for about a minute when the startled wife shook me up to find if i was in a dream. “No, i am not dreaming. Nor have i become mad. I am practicing what has been suggested in an article on medical benefits of laughter which i read yesterday.”, i said. The article advised that for good health, one should laugh aloud (not very), for a few minutes immediately after waking up and before getting up and leaving bed.

‘Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.’

‘Laughter is the best medicine.’

These words used to come to my mind every morning when, during my morning walk. i used pass by a park in Kolkata where i was working at that time. I used to see a group of elderly men (and sometimes a couple of women as well) gather in a corner of the park, stand in a circular formation and laugh in a synchronized way.  I came to know that they were members of a Laughter Club at their morning routine.

Why has there been a need for such clubs where one has to force oneself to laugh? Laughter should come spontaneously and without an effort. In a day an average adult hardly laughs 10 times or less but a child, free of tensions, laughs more than 150 times a day.  Smiling is basic to our nature and babies are said be actually born smiling. Ultrasound scans show babies apparently smiling even inside the womb. Paul Ekman, an authority on facial expressions, says that smile is one of our basic, biologically uniform expressions. Smiling is contagious and we all have an innate drive to smile when we see someone else smiling.  Due to the stressful living in modern days, we laugh rarely in spite of knowing the adage that laughter is the best medicine.

A wise saying goes like this: It is not that human beings forget to laugh when they grow; if a person forgets to laugh, he has certainly stopped growing! 

Medical science teaches us that laughing is good for health. It is good for mind and body.  It helps increase the intake of oxygen to the body. It keeps blood pressure under control and removes all residual air from the body. 



It has been found that a frown needs more muscles to work than does smiling.  



So why waste more energy by frowning rather than smiling? 

It is well said that we don't laugh because we are happy, we are happy because we laugh. One should occasionally ask oneself, "When was the last time that I laughed aloud?"

A study on the history of smile by Collin Jones shows that an ear-to ear grinning with exposed teeth would have been considered raving mad in the 18th century Europe. A self-portrait by artist Louise Elizabeth wearing an open mouthed smile in 1787 caused a ripple in polite society and was a bit of a scandal! The mouth and smile changed as dentistry and mouth-care products developed.
   
A study reveals that during 1950s, the average person laughed for 18 minutes a day. By the end of the 20th century, this time was reduced to 6 minutes a day. And in the 21st century, this length has been reduced further.

In an interview, the famous cartoonist of India, R K Laxman had said - Man was destined to suffer much more than animals and hence God said, “Young man, go and laugh.”

The idea that mind can affect the body is now universally accepted in medical science. The subject has an unwieldy name ‘psychoneuroimmunology’. It is said that our mind can ‘talk’ with the body’s immune systems and other organs using chemicals and electrical signals from nerves. Negative emotions like anger, insecurity and stress aggravate heart disease, blood pressure and blood sugar. Smiling works therapeutic wonders. Curving one's lips like a half moon while crinkling the corners of the eyes in a crow's feet fashion boosts body's mood-enhancing endorphins and lowers stress inducing cortisol levels. 

What makes us laugh? Laughter is a sudden transformation of a tense expectation into nothing. One laughs at the strangest things, sometimes even without a reason. Aristotle said that laughter is intimately related to ugliness. Deformity is the most frequent cause of laughter. Children laugh at people who stammer, limp or have other physical disabilities .

Alexander Bain, experimental psychologist, said a man explodes in laughter when he sees a stroke of superiority in himself compared to others or in discomfort of a rival.

Many times, we use laughter to humiliate others.

Laughter is a creative process that can make people laugh and make them forget their worries. It is very difficult for people to laugh heartily. People laugh at jokes, films and cartoons and at other people but there are very few people who can laugh at themselves.

The idea that laughter contributes to good health was first recognized by Norman Cousin in his Anatomy of an Illness in 1979. In this, the author narrates how all recognized schools of medicine had no effect on his ankylosing  spondylitis. Laughter therapy cured it miraculously.

Humour has been likened to the hiss of the pressure-valve through which we let off steam and prevent ourselves from exploding. If people learn to laugh more both at and with each other, they will not be so much at each others' throats.

While on the subject of laughter, a question comes to mind: why do we laugh when tickled? And, mysteriously, why can’t we tickle ourselves?  Why did humans evolve to laugh at all, unlike other animals? Animals, unlike humans, never burst into laughing!  Scholars of past, from Socrates, Galileo, Darwin to those of the present day, have pondered over this enduring mystery. How is it that someone rubbing his fingers on our sides or feet makes us laugh?

Charles Darwin and Ewald Hecker put forth the Darwin-Hecker hypothesis
suggesting that humour and tickling have underlying similarities. Both produce laughter and convulsive muscle-contractions and both appear to require a pleasant state of mind. Another study found that tickling does not create a real pleasurable feeling but only an appearance of it. It is a simple reflex, much like a patient’s foot jumping up when a doctor strokes the former’s knee with a rubber hammer.

The explanation why people cannot tickle themselves is the same reason that a person cannot startle herself/himself ; it is the absence of the element of surprise.

Still, a question remains; when a person comes close to us and prepares for tickling us, we know that he is going to tickle us, where is the element of surprise? 

Now, there are reports that, a 'Tickle Service'  where - if you feel the need for laughing -  you will be tickled, of course by paying a charge!

Talk on laughter leads one Laughter Clubs. Laughter Therapy, known as Hasyayog, was prevalent and practiced in India thousands of years ago. In recent times, the concept was first put into practice in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician of Mumbai. He went to a public park and motivated 4 persons to stand in a corner and start laughing. Initially, people laughed at the idea but when he explained its health benefits, more people joined. The participants stood in a circle and one of them would crack a joke or tell a humorous anecdote. People enjoyed the fun and felt nice after 10-20 minutes of laughter every morning. Later, the members practiced laughing without jokes or other similar aids. Now, the movement of Laughter Clubs as an aid to laughter therapy has spread all over India. Laughter, even if not spontaneous, has healing effect.

The members of Laughter Clubs laugh in different ways, namely, Ho-ho, Ha-ha, Hee-hee and Ooh-Ooh. The Ho-ho, Ha-ha is most basic laughter. The other forms are Hearty Laughter, Greeting Laughter, Silent Laughter, Humming Laughter, Medium Laughter, Swinging Laughter, One Meter Laughter, Lion Laughter, Argument Laughter, Dancing Laughter, Musical Laughter and Gradient Laughter. Do these names make you laugh?

When we are laughing with other people, we share a sense of connectedness, which reduces loneliness. When people laugh together, it breaks down any artificial barriers.
 
The practice of laughing or at least smiling in the bed for a few minutes immediately after waking up, is a nano version of a Laughing Club; it is a one-man or one-woman club.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev advises us that when we get up, the first thing that we should do, is smile because just that we woke up is not a small thing. Many people who slept last night, did not wake up today; everyone dear to us, woke up.  Then look around and if there is anyone, smile at him/her; for many people, someone dear to them, did not wake up. A day may come when someone dear to us does not wake up.     

Isn’t it that one who laughs, lasts? Lucky is the person who dies laughing!

TAIL PIECE:

Smile; it is the second best thing to do with your lips!