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Laughing your way to good health


January 2008

Laughing works up the lungs and heart, strengthens the immune system, thins the blood and dilates the blood vessels." -  Dr. Cindy Solliday-McRoy

During the 1960s, Norman Cousins, the former editor of the Saturday Review magazine, was diagnosed with a progressive degenerative disease. In his book, "Anatomy of an Illness," he describes how he helped to cure himself using massive doses of laughter.

Dr. Cindy Solliday-McRoy, a behavioral psychologist with Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare who practices at Elmbrook Memorial Hospital, truly believes that laughter is the best medicine. She’s currently the only person in the state who’s certified as a laughter yoga instructor. "My chosen expertise as a health psychologist is mind/body medicine," she explains, referring to the rather unusual subspecialty.

Laughter yoga functions exactly as the name implies. It combines some of the deep breathing and basic stretching of a structured yoga routine with simulated laughter.

The concept originated in India a decade ago, when an internist named Dr. Madan Kataria was conducting some research on the benefits of laughter to heart health. Laughing, it seemed, could produce the same benefits as several minutes of jogging without the stress on the joints. He applied it to a yoga routine and created a new therapy.

"Laughing works up the lungs and heart, strengthens the immune system, thins the blood and dilates the blood vessels," says Solliday-McRoy. "It’s a really quick fix and the effects last for days." One 20- or 30-minute session will have a positive impact on the body’s physiology for several days. "And you don’t have the iatrogenic effects of the medications in your body," she adds.

Laughter has also been documented as a tool to help sufferers of depression and anxiety. "It releases a whole host of chemicals in the body," says Solliday-McRoy of the therapy.

Interested in the concept? Solliday-McRoy is teaching a free, one-hour class on the second Thursday of every month. The class meets on the fifth floor conference room at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare-Wauwatosa, 201 N. Mayfair Road. Preregister at (888) 994-3286.

While mind-body medicine is still in its infancy, results like those from laughter yoga are hard to ignore. Perhaps a future doctor might write on his prescription pad, "Watch two hours of Comedy Central and call me in the morning."