By Bambang Tiong
YOGYAKARTA (JP): You may snicker a little at the headline above, wondering how a chuckle now and then can do any good in combating health problems.
But it may, in fact, be what you need for robust health. Chinese traditional medical practitioners have long espoused the value of laughter, believing that it balances the inner elements of the body, the yin and yang.
In Indonesia, the theory gained credence in the 1970s with a scientific argument in a pakem, a source book for Javanese shadow play stories.
And laughing does not cost a penny.
Dr. F.X. Haryatno, a specialist in alternative therapy from Panti Rapih Hospital in Yogyakarta, said laughter caused a contraction in some muscles of the body and also triggered hormonal reactions.
It may also keep you looking and feeling young. There is also a reflexive tightening of facial muscles, for a more youthful appearance.
Laughter also improves the performance of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates emotions, and will accelerate the production of the adrenalin hormone discharged by adrenal glands, which later may lead to relaxation.
Another advantage of laughing is that the air forced from the lungs can expel foreign materials, in addition to maximizing the discharge of endorphin — the “”feel-good”” proteins in the brain — and antibodies so that recovery from diseases will be accelerated.
Laughing, however, could also be dangerous, Haryatno said, if it is done excessively or improperly as it will result in a lack of oxygen to the brain and other parts of the body. He said this was a frequent occurrence.
Haryatno said the “”proper”” way to laugh was freely, but while periodically stopping for one of two seconds to take a fresh breath.
In order to be able to laugh freely (you never know when a funny situation will occur during the day), people must not wear restrictive clothing. The body’s movements during laughter will be constricted by a tight belt or shirt across the diaphragm.
Although the country has yet to conduct a formal study of laughter’s medicinal benefits, Panti Rapih Hospital is planning to have its patients and staff in the hospital listen to jokes from a cassette played every morning for 30 minutes.
The hospital will monitor any beneficial results in the patients from listening to the jokes, and try to determine if the laughter therapy will be of help in treating diseases. Researchers are also attempting to determine if laughter therapy is out of the question for those suffering from conditions in which laughter would be painful.
“”We are still at survey stage, we do, however, give priority to the patient’s comfort,”” said Dr. St. Arid Haliman, MPH, who is chairman of the hospital’s board of directors and also its medical director.
He, like many doctors in the United States and Europe, takes a serious view of the benefits of laughter therapy. He said U.S. studies of cancer patients found that a period of laughter therapy was tied to a reduction in tumor size.
He noted the benefits may not be limited to hospitals.
Laughter therapy may also be of help in stressful offices, where people have few opportunities to release their stress, and even in the stifling environment of prisons. The latter are already the site of laughter therapy sessions in some Indian states.