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Is Laughter Really the Best Medicine?
Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.: Tue, Jun 10th 2014
We've all heard about the broad benefits of meditation - reduced stress levels, feelings of inner calm, and enhanced relaxation, concentration, and focus.
But meditation is a lot of work. It requires carving out time each day and (ideally) finding a private, comfortable space to do it, each of which can be challenging in our busy lives.
That's where laughter comes in. What if I told you that a study of laughter and meditation showed that both activities set off the same patterns of brain waves and hence, yielded the same results?
Now that would be cool. It's a lot easier to fit some belly laughs into our day compared to 30, even 15 minutes of meditation.
The study was conducted by Dr. Lee Berk, a psychosomatic medicine specialist at Loma Linda University's School of Medicine (if you're wondering what a psychosomatic medicine specialist is, it's a doctor that explores the social, psychological, and behavioral aspects of health and quality of life). Dr. Berk recruited 31 college students to have their scalps covered with electrodes as they watched videos that were either distressing or funny. He then tracked their brain waves and compared them to brain waves typical of a meditative state.
He found that genuine, hearty laughter created the same brain wave patterns as meditation. Specifically, both laughter and meditation seem to result in gamma wave brain activity, where most of the brain's higher processing regions operate on the same frequency.
Gamma wave activity is distinct from alpha activity, which occurs during dreamless sleep, and beta activity, when we're alert and mentally active. In contrast, gamma wave activity is associated with being "in the zone."
People who watched the distressing videos had a much different experience; their brain wave activity plummeted in almost a flat-lined fashion.
Gamma wave activity is not only powerful in its ability to help us perform with ease - it's also pleasurable due to the release of the neurochemical dopamine that accompanies this brain state.
Dr. Berk points out that meditation isn't for everybody, but laughter almost certainly is. So why not get a daily dose and boost your health and well-being? I think it's time for me to dig up my old DVD collection of Northern Exposure.
Healy, M. (May 1, 2014). LOL your way to transcendental bliss? Om, yeah! Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-laughter-meditation-20140430-story.html