"Dr. Funshine" prescribes laughter yoga for seniors

Fri Nov 26, 2010 2:46pm EST
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By Sarah Tippit

SAN DIEGO (Reuters Life!) - It's a Thursday afternoon at the Live Well center in San Diego and a group of seniors are skipping, clapping and hooting in the recreation room.

That's precisely what Dr. Caroline Meeks, aka "Dr. Funshine" ordered. As part of her holistic practice, Meeks, a physician and author, visits senior centers and hospitals aiming to treat chronic seriousness.

Her prescription: Frequent doses of "laughter yoga," -- an hour-long, mind-body exercise class that combines yogic breathing with simulated physical laughter and silly banter.

The exercises, combined with playfulness, singing, dancing and eye contact, usually induce authentic cackling, which Meeks and others believe is good medicine for everybody from cancer patients to people with dementia and depression.

"It's hard to laugh and worry at the same time, or be angry or be profoundly sad, or in pain at that moment. Laughter makes you shift toward ... feeling more connected, grateful, positive," said Meeks.

There is very little research into the connection between laughter and disease remission but some clinical studies have shown that it raises oxygen levels in the lungs, lowers blood pressure and reduces the stress hormone, cortisol.

A study a decade ago at the University of Maryland showed that laughter relaxes arteries and boosts blood vessel function, according to the website of Laughter Yoga founder Dr. Madan Kataria of India (www.laughteryoga.org).


<p>Dr. Funshine, aka Caroline Meeks, M.D. (C) leads a laughter therapy session with Wanda Boyce (L) and Richard Trask along with a group of seniors at the Clairmont Friendship Center in San Diego, California November 17, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>