The Benefits of Laughter Therapy

The Benefits of Laughter Therapy

Author: Molly Winiarski

The sole mission of the Gotham Comedy Foundation is to bring laughter, storytelling and togetherness to patients in nursing homes, hospices and hospitals. A non-profit organization, the GCF sends stand-up comics and professional storytellers to a variety of centers, including Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel, and New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital.

Held at the Gotham Comedy Club’s Vintage Lounge on Tuesday, September 6th, and partnered with the NYCSHRM, the Gotham Comedy Foundation will host their Annual Diversity and Inclusion Special Interest Group Comedy Networking Show and Diversity Celebration, with all benefits going towards the organization.

 The Benefits of Laughter Therapy

“Laughter is the best medicine,” is an expression tossed around meaninglessly; it is unheard of for a doctor to prescribe a cancer-stricken patient tickets to see Seinfeld and render them cured. However, recent studies in the blossoming field of laughter, or humor, therapy have proved that comedic relief may in fact be beneficial for people in recovery from a variety of chronic illnesses.

Scientifically, it has been proven that laughter (which is often synonymous with a bodily release of stress) reduces anxiety, boosts the immune system and can make some pain increasingly manageable. Other physical benefits, as listed by the American Cancer Foundation include, muscle relaxation, increased oxygen intake, improved digestive health, balancing blood pressure and stimulation of the heart and lungs. Despite the plentiful benefits of laughter therapy for patients, it is important to note that it is not an alternative treatment, rather a complimentary one that can be used to enhance the effects of conventional medications.

Not only does laughter benefit the immune system and the body’s physical response to stressful stimuli such as chronic illness, but it also posses the tremendous power of providing some emotional consolation in the toughest of times. Allowing someone who is suffering to find momentary comedic relief in the tragedy of their situation can act as a catalyst to accepting the situation that one is in, as opposed to dwelling on what is unchangeable. Typically, ten minutes of laughter can lead to a 70% decrease in stress indicators throughout the body, all of which are known to inhibit the immune system’s fight response. A moment of laughter is a moment shared, meaning that someone who is suffering is given an integral sense of community and support with those who they are enjoying the moment with.

As scientific studies praising the benefits of humor therapy begin to emerge, there has also been a growth in the number of organizations and medical centers that chose to incorporate comedic relief into their treatment programs. Laughter yoga, which TIME magazine hailed “the new meditation” first rose to moderate prominence in the mid-nineties and early 2000’s as an exercise done in parks. Developed by Indian physical Madan Kataria, who wrote about it in his book Laugh for No Reason, laughter yoga largely involves forcing laughter in groups until it becomes true laughter. Oxford University found that pain tolerance increased significantly following laughter therapy, producing “an endorphin-mediated opiate effect.” Many hospitals and hospices have integrated this practice into their routines, some going so far as to send professional comics and storytellers in to uplift the spirits of seriously ill patients and their families.

While laughter therapy may not possess the punch required to force cancer into remission, or entirely relieve chronic pain, there are minimal studies suggesting that they do anything to the contrary. Physiological benefits aside, laughter is an important foundation in building a communal experience and almost inarguably brings a group of people together, which in and of itself is a powerful, accessible and cost-free force that is essential to someone going through a difficult time.

Sixteen-year-old stand up comic Molly Winiarski regularly performs in the Gotham Comedy Club ‘Kids n Comedy’ pro-shows, where she interns teaching younger children, in addition to working as an intern with the Gotham Comedy Foundation.

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