Laughter Yoga and How it Helps to Ease Chronic Pain

“All I did was laugh myself to health.” ~Norman Cousins

The above quote is one from a gentleman named Norman Cousins who was a well-known political journalist and a passionate advocate for world peace. This quote refers to a time when he was facing a quick-onset of several diagnoses including connective tissue disease, collagen disease, and ankylosing spondylitis. From it all, he was fairly crippled, bedridden, and riddled with pain. Doctors told him that his chances for recovery were minimal at a 1 in 500 chance (for anyone unfamiliar with the math there, that’s a measly 0.2% chance of recovery).

Not to be deterred, Cousins took it upon himself to create his own path back to health. When more traditional methods of various vitamins and medications failed him, he turned to laughter. Over the next month, he did nothing but laugh all day…good belly laughter that he brought on by watching comical shows, reading funny jokes, and even coming up with his own original jokes, which he also laughed hysterically at. He basically did nothing but make himself laugh – really laugh – for an entire month all day, everyday.

During this time, he noticed his pain easing, his hope rising, and his body and mind recovering. At the end of the month, he went back to his doctor, and to their disbelief, he was cured. When they asked him how he did it, the above quote was his reply, “All I did was laugh myself to health.”

While these types of quick and dramatic results may not always be the case, and there is some speculation as to whether or not Cousins’ recovery was truly a result of all of the laughter, there is no doubt in the medical society that laughter has a positive effect on a large array of conditions and illnesses, with chronic pain, such as in Cousins’ case, being one of them. This is where laughter yoga shines! There are several ways in which laughter yoga works to help reduce chronic pain. For any fellow inquisitive minds out there that want some science to back this claim up, we have the following:

  • Laughter yoga and the breathing exercises practiced within it help to calm the sympathetic nervous system by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous is a cooling system that calms us, relaxes us, and after a particularly stressful event, it enables our bodies to return to their natural state of rest, restore, and repair. In turn, when our bodies are in that relaxed and restorative state, the sensations of pain are reduced dramatically.
  • Laughter provides a surge of endorphins, among other feel-good chemicals and hormones. Endorphins are a key contributor in promoting analgesia, or the inability to feel pain, in that they actually bind to certain opioid receptors in the brain and body inhibiting the release of tachykinins, which are simply proteins involved in the transmission of pain…sorry if that’s too much science-y stuff… 🙂 Basically, laughter yoga encourages the release of endorphins, and those feel-good endorphins not only make us feel happier, but they also drastically reduce the sensations of pain throughout our bodies.
  • Laughter yoga is an excellent tool for refocusing the mind’s attention away from any pain we may be experiencing. It is no secret that the more we are concentrated on a physical sensation within our body, the stronger that sensation feels. Similarly, when we are thinking about something else besides a certain ache or pain, it is less noticeable and weaker. Furthermore, when we can distract ourselves from pain in a pleasurable way, it is lessened even more. Laughter provides the perfect happy distraction from any pain that may be present causing it to lessen in severity and sensation.
  • Laughter yoga helps to train and teach our limbic system, or the part of our brain responsible for telling the body how to respond to various stimuli and events, how to react to uncomfortable life events. In general, our conscious reactions to any discomfort we may be experiencing tells the limbic system how it should respond to that discomfort or anything similar to it. When we feel pain, and we laugh in response, we are telling the limbic system that we’re perfectly fine, there is no need for the release of those hormones, chemicals, and signals associated with that pain, and that it can just relax. The more often that we use laughter as a response to pain, the more we are training our limbic system to relax and stop sending those pain signals. Slowly but surely, the limbic system sends less and less of these signals to our bodies as it follows our lead, reducing our pain, and increasing our resiliency.
  • Laughter yoga provides a release of emotions and a release of physical tension, and this provides stress and tension relief allowing our muscles and minds to relax, which reduces pain throughout the body. When we laugh, we go through spurts of tensing our muscles and then releasing that tension. This is kind of like a relaxing massage for our muscles, organs, minds, etc. The release of tension in our minds and bodies leads to a significant reduction in pain.
  • Laughter yoga improves sleep quality and relieves insomnia, and anyone that has ever experienced chronic pain knows that sleep can be a game changer. When Cousins was doing his laughter therapy, he stated that “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.” Laughter yoga has the magnificent benefits of both reducing pain allowing for sleep to come more easily, and also improving sleep quality so that the body can rest and repair itself more easily.

This gives us a bit of an idea of the science behind how laughter yoga can help to reduce, ease, and sometimes even eliminate chronic pain. What’s also amazing about laughter yoga is that it’s free, anyone can do it, and most importantly – it’s FUN! Who doesn’t want more laughter, less pain, more happiness in their life, and more peace throughout the world? Laughter heals, laughter helps, and laughter connects us all at a deep and profound level. Give laughter yoga and all of its happy side effects a go – I promise you, you won’t regret it!

Follow along with my blog and videos to learn more and to experience all of the benefits of laughter yoga for yourself! If you’re looking for a more “live” experience, contact me about Zoom sessions! Sending love and laughter to all of you!


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor a medical professional. The information presented on this site is for educational purposes only. One should always consult with their doctor or medical professional before taking on any sort of new exercise program.

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