Maybe laughter really is the best medicine
July 20, 2009 · Updated 10:23 AM
Thoughts on the virtues of sidesplitting with a comedian, an improv actor and a health professional.
During one of his earliest nights on the improv stage, EDGE improv member Chris Soldevilla was beating up on himself after what he felt was a sub-par performance. But the guy who had hired the troupe came back and told them the audience had liked it.
“I was like ‘how?’” Soldevilla recalled. “I felt the show didn’t go that great, I was hard on myself and the critique was harsh. But he went down the list and what we didn’t know was that this particular group of people, one woman’s husband had just died, another had just been diagnosed with cancer and another had been fighting something for a long time.
“And he said, ‘You know I’ve been friends with these people for a long time, and I haven’t seen them laugh in months, they’ve just been so depressed. So to seem them all truly laughing was worth everything,’” Soldevilla went on.
It was a real eye opener, he added, a testament to the power of laughter.
“From then on, it was like, you know, if people are laughing, why can’t I?” Soldevilla said.
It’s an interesting and enigmatic experience — laughing.
As the old adage goes: laughter, some say, is the best medicine. And there’s actually scientific evidence to back that up. In his “Articles on Health and Humor” in 2006, Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D reflected on more than 30 studies that had examined the impact of humor and laughter on the immune system, finding that most show that humor does directly, and indirectly, strengthen several different components of the immune system.
There’s the obvious component of anti-stress hormones — in that when a patient is emotionally stressed their immune system doesn’t work as well at fighting sources of infection as it did in a stress free environment. But there was also evidence of antibodies — like immunoglobulin A (IgA), which reside in mucosal areas of the body and help protect against upper respiratory infections — showing significant increases in response to comedy programs.
“The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease,” McGhee quotes Voltaire in the preface of his Articles.
And then there’s the curious case of a man named Norman Cousins — prominent political journalist, author and world-peace advocate — who abandoned the hospital and battled heart disease with a steady regimen of vitamin C and Marx Brothers movies.
All of which leads to the modern day medical phenomenon of Laughter Yoga.
The movement began in India and has since spread throughout more than 6,000 clubs across the world. Last year, Bremerton Harrison Medical Center adopted the practice at its staff meetings.
“Laughing for no reason at all,” Rose Yaptinchay, RN, Harrison’s Employee Health Director explained.
The practice combines simple yoga breathing and stretching techniques with actual laughing exercises, which the Laughter Yoga leader leads the group through. It’s been said to alleviate stress, fear and anxiety. It’s been praised as a “life-changing experience.”
Yaptinchay said of her first time, “It was a workout, a real aerobic workout.
“There’s a lot of socializing and communicating through laughter,” she went on. “Later, when you see each other in the elevator or the hall you’ll look at each other and smile or laugh, because you’ve laughed together.”
Though not through Laughter Yoga, that same communal experience is what led Seattle comedian Kermit Apio to his current profession.
When he first started on the open mic circuit, Apio never imagined that comedy would become his occupation. He just loved to laugh.
“When I first got into it, I just loved being around,” Apio said. “I never thought it was going to be a job, I just loved being around all these weird people trying to make each other laugh.”
Despite his best intentions, stand up comedy became a career path and eventually led to the comedian’s holy grail earlier this summer, as he took home top honors out of 24 competitors at the Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk, Neb.
“I was just happy to be going, man,” Apio said. “I was just happy to be a part of it.”
Even though he was on one of comedy’s biggest stages, he was still happy just to be hanging out with all those weird people, trying to make each other laugh.