13 August 2021 Volume :9 Issue :35

Laughter Truly is the Best Medicine!

Laughter Truly is the Best Medicine!
Panellists from the webinar from left: Dr Gita Suraj-Narayan, Mrs Busisiwe Ramabodu, Ms Sheroma Surajnarayan and Mr Bhupendra Suraj-Narayan.

The Joker’s words: ‘Why so serious?’ are very relevant in today’s world as many adults struggle to keep moods light, minds clear and enjoy states of happiness. Many hanker after their childhood and teenage years when everything seemed simple and life was a laugh a minute.

Without a shadow of a doubt, a good belly laugh is not only for the young - everyone, no matter their age, can enjoy and benefit from laughter. Whether it’s with friends, family and colleagues or while watching a comedy, nothing beats a good giggle or funny joke that has a person holding their sides and having to catch their breath as they experience the overwhelming euphoria of happiness.

Studies have found that humour can be learned. Whether a person fakes laughter or really does laugh the human body cannot tell the difference. A person can cognitively restructure and train their body and mind to laugh even if traumatised and stressed. A person’s inner cellular pharmacy still releases serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins (happy hormones) that promote positive feelings of pleasure, mood stabilisation, wellbeing, happiness, bonding, love, trust, relief from pain and relaxation.

Laughter has great short-term effects with physical changes occurring such as stimulating organs and enhancing the intake of oxygen-rich air, activating and relieving stress response thereby decreasing heart rate and blood pressure, stimulating circulation and aiding muscle relaxation.

UKZN’s Human Resources Division (HRD) recently hosted Dr Gita Suraj-Narayan founder of The Laughter Institute to facilitate a Laughter Therapy programme. Suraj-Narayan has developed a model of laughter therapy combining laughter yoga (developed by cardiologist Dr Madan Kataria) with psychotherapeutic and social work interventions.

HRD’s Mrs Busisiwe Ramabodu, who facilitated the webinar, highlighted its importance. ‘Our world is suffering because of serious catastrophes such as the Coronavirus and the looting and violence in parts of Gauteng and KZN,’ said Ramabodu. ‘Some of us may have post-traumatic stress.

‘So, with that in mind, we felt it was very important to host the webinar to help relieve some of the stress. Now is the time to detach from this material plane of existence and realise that happiness comes from within. Laughter (therapy) is one such resource.’

Awarded the South African Heroes Award for impacting the lives of people positively, Suraj-Narayan’s programme is endorsed by the United Nations, with the African Institute having over 6 000 Laughter Centres in over 60 countries.

‘Laughter therapy is one of the best tools for mindfulness. Laughter actually engages the entire brain - similar to meditation. When you are participating in a laughter session, it’s almost impossible to think about anything else. This enhances spatial (space) and temporal (time) awareness allowing a participant to live in the moment and be grateful,’ said Suraj-Narayan.

The programme consists of a set of exercises - including clapping - which stimulates pressure points linking to meridians in the body for optimal health; simulated laughter which helps to cognitively restructure fears and anxieties to a more strength-based approach; and pranayama - during which participants learn proper breathing techniques to keep the lungs well oxygenated and boost the immune system, and laughter meditation and relaxation.

‘Laughter has taught me that nothing is permanent and that no matter what challenges we experience, we can overcome them with power and resilience,’ said breathing technique facilitator Ms Sheroma Surajnarayan. ‘We don’t laugh because we have no problems, we laugh because we choose to take back our happiness despite our problems.’

Sharing his personal experience, fellow facilitator Mr Bhupendra Suraj-Narayan said: ‘I find that laughter therapy reignites the three states of joy in me which are producing and playing music, dancing professionally, and childlike playfulness. In addition, the exercises in the sessions have a profound effect not just physically but also physiologically and psychologically which facilitates holistic healing within me. Laughter also helps me cognitively restructure the way I resolve problems. You cannot solve a problem with the mind that created it,’ said Suraj-Narayan.

‘When I lost my dad to COVID-19 I wanted to create public awareness of the seriousness of this virus and the importance of self-care. Creating a video reliving the events that led to my dad’s death was a very traumatic experience for me. However, laughter forced me to push my psychological boundaries and helped me overcome my grief and trauma while producing the video on the Impacts of COVID-19.’

Global Representative for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Mr Ilija Todorovi shared a written message of goodwill to UKZN which read in part: ‘With the universal positive energy that comes about through laughter therapy, resilience and hope can be restored and take root again to bring about peace building, justice and inner and outer development. This therapy I try to use every day in my work with affected populations to bring about positive change and renewal in peace and prosperity. Sending the UKZN community my message of hope and personal belief in laughter and joy to build again a more-happy, peaceful, tolerant and resilient world.’

It is said that when we laugh we change; when we change the world changes; when the world changes there will be peace; health and happiness. It is a simplified adage, and sometimes not given much credit, but it really can be as simple as that.

So why not smirk, smile, grin, snicker, giggle, chuckle, chortle, laugh, cackle, guffaw, howl, shriek, roar, collapse in stitches?

Just laugh - you’ll feel amazing!

Words: Rakshika Sibran

Photographs: Supplied

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