Laughter is the Best Medicine

By Story and Photos by Sarah Craig

"A contagious mix of high-pitched giggles and deep belly roars echoed from wall to wall on the top floor of UCSF’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine during an hour-long session of laughter yoga. It was it impossible to stifle a smile.

“The whole idea behind Laughter Yoga is that we laugh for no reason,” said Teresa Corrigan, the instructor for the class and a nurse at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. “We just laugh for the sheer joy of laughing.”

Corrigan brought the exercise to UCSF after taking a class on laughing and attending a party where some of her friends were trying it out. Not only does laughter boost our serotonin, dopamine and endorphin levels, she learned, but it is a great workout for the immune, lymph, and cardiovascular systems.

“I’m really convinced that it could be a big adjunct to healing for many people,” she said. The combination of laughter with controlled exhalation can be a lifesaver for patients who really don’t have a lot to laugh about.

As a weekly attendee of Corrigan’s classes as well as a laughter yoga instructor, Dee Butterfield extols the virtues of the practice. “It helps tighten my stomach muscles and to improve my breathing,” say Butterfield, “And I feel much more relaxed after every class.”

While the therapeutic benefits are many, the best thing about laughter is its universal spirit of joy. “When we just look at each other and we laugh, there are no boundaries,” Corrigan said. “The sheer joy of laughing allows us to tap into our inner spirit of joy. It’s unconditional.”

At the end of the session, Dee Butterfield surprised the class with cookies – decorated with smiley faces. “I brought the cookies because I wanted to continue sharing the joy of laughter!”"

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