I knew Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams before he became famous for the movie character played by the late Robin Williams. He’s a long-time advocate for the use of laughter in medicine. And in 1995, years before the movie came out, I wanted to include a chapter on Humor Therapy by Patch in the first edition of my textbook, Fundamentals of Complementary/Alternative Medicine, which was the first U.S. textbook on natural approaches to health and healing.
My publisher was the venerable medical publishing house from London and Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone. They also publish the classic “Gray’s Anatomy.” (The textbook — not the TV show.)
As I was completing this first edition, 20 years ago, I remember the publisher expressed some reservations (i.e. they were getting “cold feet”) about including a chapter on humor and medicine in the new textbook. They didn’t want to take any extra chances, not with the first medical textbook on the science of natural medicine.
So, they left out Patch’s original chapter. And there it sat for years, yellowing on a shelf.
When it came time to issue a new, second edition of my textbook, the movie “Patch Adams” had come out to great popular acclaim. Patch’s all-but-forgotten, generous contribution intended for the first edition quietly became quite valuable.
It’s almost laughable how quickly they changed their tune
Suddenly, my publisher became very interested in publishing that old chapter by Patch Adams. The only copy I had was on old Thermofax paper. And it was brittle, faded, and yellowed.
I shipped the only, fragile copy to my publisher in London.
They transcribed it and we got it into print for the second edition. It’s a great chapter.
I still stay in touch with Patch. He remains quite busy traveling the world, bringing humor to medicine, literally.
For the latest, fifth edition of my textbook, I updated his chapter on Humor in Medicine with Patch and realized what a prominent place this topic has.
From the very beginning, Patch wrote about the work of Dr. Annette Goodheart, who invented laughter therapy in the 1960s. She was also the first to create a scientific framework for the therapeutic use of “voluntary stimulated laughter.”
Dr. Goodheart taught that every time we speak, we emit sounds that are interpreted as words, in different languages. Tones of voice, chanting and laughter also provide inner music and harmony that can help trigger the most basic healing responses in the body. Different sounds of laughter have different frequencies and vibrations that resonate directly with the heartbeat. And it turns out, laughter can speed up the heartbeat in a state of excitement or slow it down in a state of relaxation.
In more recent studies, researchers have found the benefits of having a good laugh may even help improve your memory.
In fact, in a recent U.S. study, researchers looked at 20 healthy older adults in their 60s and 70s. They asked one group to sit silently, not talking, reading, or using their cellphones. The other group watched funny videos.
After 20 minutes, the participants gave saliva samples and took a short memory test.
Laughter group performs twice as well on short-term recall
Both groups performed better after the break than before it. But the “humor group” performed significantly better when it came to memory recall. In fact, the men and women who watched the funny videos improved 43.6 percent on the short-term memory recall test. By comparison, the silent group only improved 20.3 percent.
Furthermore, the humor group showed considerably lower levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” after watching the videos. The non-humor group’s stress levels decreased just slightly.
Other studies show wide-ranging health benefits of laughter — from improving weight loss to relieving depression. And study by cardiologists with the University of Maryland Medical Center found it even protects against heart disease. (Not surprising in the least when you consider laughter reduces stress, the No. 1 hidden factor of heart disease.)
If this research sounds pretty good to you, try these well-studied sounds of laughter at home:
The most frequent laugh opens the mouth, stretching and expanding the chest. The vowel “A” (together with B, C, D, and J) produces vibration in the kidneys, abdomen and hips. It stimulates the adrenal glands, giving waves of energy to the body.
The more subtle form of laughter produces vibration under the ribs, stimulating liver, gall bladder and muscle, and facilitating digestion.
This “frolicking” laughter produces vibrations in the areas of the neck and heart. It can also stimulate the thyroid gland.
The vibration transmits to the head. It affects the pineal gland, pituitary glands, and the brainstem. Some experts say it helps with digestion — which was probably appreciated by the jolly, old elf (Santa Claus) whose belly shook like a bowl full of jelly when he laughed, “Ho-ho-ho.”
This “dark laughter” — which occurs at the lowest frequency and vibration — is very powerful. It affects the large intestines and gets more air into the nostrils to help stimulate sense of smell.
So your assignment today comes straight from my textbook…
Laugh out loud today and work your way through the alphabet of vowels. Use a full range of laughter frequencies and vibrations to benefit heart, mind and body.
Besides, it will be fun!
- The effect of humor on short-term memory in older adults: a new component for whole-person wellness,” Adv Mind Body Med. 2014 Spring;28(2):16-24
- “Laughter is the Best Medicine for Your Heart,” University of Maryland (www.umd.org)