Teeheeheehee, yuk yuk yuk, ho ho ho, BAHAHAHA — no matter how you do it, laughter can boost your mood, lower your blood pressure and help prolong your life.
“It’s spontaneous; it’s contagious; it’s incredibly powerful,” said Cindy Miles, a certified laughter therapist based in Sylva.
These factors are some of the reasons Miles sought out laughter therapy training. Laughter therapy uses the positive benefits of genuine, mirthful chuckling to help alleviate problems such as stress, high blood pressure, lethargy and depression.
“It’s a very simple way to manage stress,” Miles said. “We know that laughter relaxes blood vessels.”
And, it’s cheap. The only cost is Miles’ time and training.
“It’s a way to get a powerful result with very little money,” she said.
Burns calories, increases blood flow to the brain, strengthens the immune system and releases endorphins are among the other listed benefits of laughter therapy.
“100 percent of the people who actively participate feel better,” Miles said.
Miles works for the Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging as family caregiver resource coordinator.
In her job, Miles sees strained caregivers ignoring their personal needs in order to support a disabled, terminally ill or elderly family member. As a result, caregivers report a deterioration of their health, higher rates of depression and poor eating habits. And, it is not uncommon for caregivers to die before the person they are assisting.
“One thing I encounter with family caregivers is they are so stressed,” she said.
A tenant of the therapy is that laughter begets laughter. By performing one of more than 100 different activities, laughter therapists’ goal is to trigger fits of guffaws, which lead to various degrees of side splitting, floor rolling and ebullient eye watering.
“They are designed to stimulate laughter (and) it’s better in a group setting,” she said.
Exercises include pretending to be laughter-powered airplanes or simply playing a clip of baby’s cracking up — something that, at the very least, is hard not to snicker at.
“Laughter ends up being the outcome,” she said.
One thing you won’t hear at a therapy session, however, is jokes.
Jokes are typically made at the expense of others, Miles said, adding that poking fun at other people is not condoned.
Laughter therapy has not only benefited the people Miles works with, but it has also improved her already cheery disposition.
“I am more mindful of the need to laugh,” she said.
Children giggle hundreds of times a day, Miles said, but as adults, people forget to chortle on a regular basis.
“If we get 15 laughs a day, we have a good day,” she said.
Miles said she has only encountered one Scrooge during her sessions. A police officer attended one of the events in full uniform and had trouble laughing because he was constrained by a bulletproof vest.
“He just could not bring himself to do it,” she said.
Otherwise, even people who have experienced a recent tragedy have been able to find humor and healing in Mile’s therapy sessions. Miles’ specifically recalled a woman who had lost her father the week prior chortling.
“I was just amazed that she was able to participate,” she said.
Spreading the cheer
Miles was first certified in 2010 and attained advanced certification a year later. She is one of about 6,000 laughter therapists certified by World Laughter Tour Inc., an organization founded by psychologist Steve Wilson. World Laughter Tour trains people and promotes the use of laughter therapy worldwide. Miles is the only laughter therapist in area, according to the organization’s website.
“I am pretty much it in this part of the state,” she said.
However, that could change in the next couple years after Miles completes the final level of training. Once she is named a master trainer, Miles can teach coworkers at the Southwestern Commission and people in similar position around the state how to lead laughter therapy sessions.
“After we saw how well it was received, we sent her for additional training,” said Mary Barker, director of the Southwestern Commission Area Agency on Aging. “I think it’s a great thing to relieve caregivers stress. They get so wound up in taking care they forget to take care of themselves.”
With more certified laughter therapists, the commission will be able to host more sessions and expose more people to its benefits.
“It is so popular that she can’t fill all the requests she is getting,” Barker said.
And at some point in the future the Southwestern Commission hopes to partner with a university to track the psychological and physical effects of laughter therapy.
“We are definitely looking at that, and the state is encouraging us to do that,” Barker said.