“Laughter Yoga” and its Effect on Older Depressed Women

Unrestricted laughter combined with yogic breathing positively affects the overall disposition of a person. The exercise hybrid “Laughter Yoga” was founded by M. Kataria. This study compares Laughter Yoga to group exercise therapy in their benefits to the life of older adult women. The researchers divided 70 elderly women with depression into three groups to undergo laughter therapy, exercise therapy and neither (control). Later, they were tested for depression symptoms and feelings of life satisfaction. Depression was significantly and equally reduced in the two experimental groups. Life satisfaction was improved in the laughter group.

While pharmacological help is available, depression is a common problem for adults over 65. Alternative therapies are recommended, as there is a higher danger of side-effects with medicinal intervention among the elderly. Dr. Kataria proposes to use laughter as a form of exercise, independent of humor. Studies have shown “beneficial effects of laughter on the different body systems such as muscle relaxation and change is immunological, hormonal, and mental parameters.” This study compares the effect of laughter yoga to that of exercise therapy on treating depression and improving satisfaction with life. Older adults would benefit more from alternative therapies, and since women are more prone to depression, older women were chosen for the study.

* Certified depressed women aged between 60 and 80 were divided into Laughter Yoga (23), Exercise Therapy (23) and Control (24) groups.
* Data regarding age, education, family situation and occupation was collected. A Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS) questionnaire with 30 questions was used to test the degree of depression. A Life Satisfaction Scale (LSS) assessed the level of pleasure in life.
* The Laughter Yoga group underwent 10 sessions. They began with introducing happy thoughts, followed by clapping to increase energy and giving rhythm. Arms are swung to a simple chant to work the diaphragm.
* Laughter exercises are interspersed with deep breathing exercises to bring physical and mental relaxation.
* The Exercise Therapy group carried out 10 sessions of 30 minutes each of aerobic exercise.

* The degree of depression reduced significantly in individuals of both laughter and exercise therapy groups, but not in the control group. The improvement was similar in both.
* “Only subjects in the Laughter Yoga group showed significant improvement in their life satisfaction scores compared with the control group.
* Both the exercise group and the control group showed similar life satisfaction values.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The result showing the absence of the effect of exercise therapy on life satisfaction is probably due to the smaller sample size, and may differ in larger cohort studies. Laughter Yoga is supposed to be performed outside, surrounded by greenery, but this was not done in the study. The duration of the study was too short to study lasting effects on mood and mental state.

The study aimed to prove the usefulness of laughter therapy in improving depression symptoms in older adults, especially women. The results show that not just does laughter therapy have similar success in reducing depression as exercise therapy; it also has positive effects of the feeling of satisfaction with life that the elderly have. Laughter Yoga is based on the premise that humor is based in the mind, while laughter is physical, and has its independent benefits based on breathing and muscular movements. Laughter Yoga is a definite recommendation for non-invasive therapy with none of the negative side effects that are so common at an older age.

For More Information:
Laughter Yoga versus Group Exercise Program in Elderly Depressed Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial
Publication Journal: International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, September 2010
By Mahvash Shahidi, PhD; Ali Mojtahed; AllamehTabatabai University, Tehran, Iran and Imam Khomeini Hospital Complex, Iran

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