In the Zooming Grace series, Deva Dosa interviews the Laughter Doctor, Rakesh Shah, MD, to learn about the benefits of laughter, still the best medicine.
Why would an Emergency Room doctor in a fast-paced hospital in the shark-tank of Atlanta make time to share laughter? Known as the Laughter Doctor, Dr. Rakesh Shah frequently presents laughter exercises and the many benefits, thanks to the zoom sessions hosted by Anuradha and Paritosh on Osho Atlanta Meetup. Now meditators, seekers, and skeptics can boost their immune systems while having lots of heart-warming and crazy-fun laughs.
As someone who has stayed inside way too much for the past five months, I find these laughter sessions on Zoom very renewing and refreshing. Dr. Shah is the total doctor, whose vocation and avocation align in service to humanity. The mood-busting “medicine” within a virtual Osho satsang is a lifesaver and a ‘lovesaver’. For those resistant to laughing for no reason, we are given full permission to fake it. Sure enough, real laughter finally bubbles up and takes over.
Founded by the Guru of Giggles, Dr. Madan Kataria, Laughter Yoga began in 1995 with only five people in a Mumbai park. Today, Laughter Yoga International is spreading like crazy with more than 20,000 free, social Laughter clubs in 110 countries.
Dr. Shah explains the science of stress reduction and enhanced immunity through laughter, noting the many benefits of laughter – medically, physically, psychologically, emotionally, socially. He describes the five significant benefits of Laughter Yoga, as follows:
Healthy Exercise to Beat Stress
Laughter and stress are physiological opposites. Scientific studies have shown that laughter reduces cortisol (stress hormone) levels in saliva. Laughter Yoga is like an aerobic exercise (cardio workout), which brings more oxygen to the body and brain, thereby making one feel healthy and energetic. It is a single exercise routine which reduces physical, mental, and emotional stress simultaneously.
Good Mood and More Laughter
Whether it is your personal, business, or social life, your mood affects everything you do. If your mood is good, you can do things much better. Laughter Yoga helps to change your mood within minutes by releasing certain chemicals from your brain cells called endorphins. You will remain cheerful and in a good mood throughout the day and will laugh more than you normally do.
You cannot enjoy life if you are sick. Laughter Yoga strengthens the immune system, which not only prevents you from falling ill but also helps to heal a variety of conditions like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis, allergies, asthma, bronchitis, backache, fibromyalgia, migraine, headaches, menstrual disorders, cancer, and many others.
Quality of Life
Quality of life depends upon the quality of good friendships we have. Laughter is a positive energy that helps people to connect with others quickly and improves relationships. If you laugh more, you will attract many friends.
Positive Attitude in Challenging Times
Everyone can laugh when life is good, but how does one laugh when faced with challenges? Laughter helps create a positive mental state to deal with negative situations and negative people. It gives hope and optimism to cope with difficult times.
In addition to explaining these benefits, Dr. Shah was very gracious to give an in-depth interview:
It is so exciting that an ER doctor understands and shares the beauty and science of laughter. How did you get started in Laughter Yoga?
Starting in March 2020, it was one of the worst times in America, when on many days more than 2,500 people were dying due to COVID 19. Working as an Emergency Room Physician, I was with the front-line warriors of this coronavirus pandemic. With doom and gloom dominating the news, and the world as yet to find a permanent solution for COVID 19, as a physician I know that the best way to fight the virus is to keep your immune system strong.
I was looking for ways to build immunity for myself and others. I discovered Laughter Yoga and found scientific information about the benefits of Laughter Yoga. I did the basic learning course with Dr. Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga, in May 2020. I started practicing laughter exercises every day at home and joined several online classes on Zoom. I have started laughing much more than I did in the past. I have no doubt this is the quickest way to reduce stress and keep my mind positive in this time of crisis.
During your workday in the hospital Emergency Room, how do you manage the stress? What thoughts do you give yourself to stay clear, happy, and immune during the pandemic?
Daily practice of Laughter Yoga exercises keeps me stress-free and my mind positive during challenging times. The other thing I have decided is to dedicate myself to the service of humanity. This is what Osho says about when you are working selflessly – that all your fears will disappear. ¹
A hospital is a serious place, especially the ER unit! How do your staff and the hospital accept your Laughter program? Do you have to hide your smiles and laughter, or is it truly contagious?
I started incorporating Laughter Yoga in my life recently, so I am yet to experiment with it at work as a structured program. But it has given me a positive and upbeat outlook in my dealing with staff and patients. I do not hide my laughter, but I am also careful about the seriousness of the patient at hand.
As a doctor, do you feel positive energy can be transferred silently to your critical patients? Do you pray for your patients?
I always believe in transferring those positive energies, and I do it all the time. I occasionally pray with the patient’s relatives after the patient dies.
What do you wish to tell all doctors? What do you wish to tell all patients?
Treatment is one thing, and healing is a different thing. Healing involves many more modalities than just medicines. We must be open to all modalities of healing. Every healing practice has something good to offer, and we must be open to it. The pill is NOT the answer to everything that happens to us.
With one-third of the world population projected to have depression in the coming years after the pandemic, what is your vision for a laughing world? Why is laughter more important than ever before in history?
Right now, there is the greatest need for laughter worldwide, especially in the USA, as many people are suffering from anxiety and depression. Laughter Yoga is a powerful antidote against depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that laughter increases the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body. There is a tremendous opportunity to help people with laughter, and that is the reason why I am excited about it.
Can you share a moment of grace that you have experienced through the Laughter Practice applied to your work as a doctor or as a meditator?
So far, I have NOT applied this directly to patients, but I can see the indirect effect of my happy outlook on patients.
Anything else you would like to add? Do you have a favorite quote to guide you?
My message is that there are not many reasons to laugh in this high-pressure, high-tension modern world; we should try laughter as an exercise because our body cannot differentiate between real laughter and voluntary laughter. You will get the same benefits either way. My favorite quote is, “There is not much laughter in medicine, but there is a lot of medicine in laughter.”
¹ Discourse reference: Osho, Until You Die, #5, Real Selfishness: When There Is No Self
A practicing Emergency Medicine Physician, Dr. Rakesh Shah was born in India and has been living in the USA since 1998. He lives in Atlanta with wife Kashmira, and two sons, Shlok and Stavan. Dr. Shah was personally mentored by the founder of Laughter Yoga International, Dr. Madan Kataria.
- All articles in this Series: Zooming Grace
- Laughter changes your very chemistry – Q: Beloved Osho, Could you speak to us on laughter, its meditative powers, its chemistry on the brain, its power of transformation and healing… Its relation to silence, the gap, clarity, vision…
- When you laugh mind disappears – Osho on Laughter
- Laughter is the very essence of religion – Osho talks on Laughter: “The whole play of existence is so beautiful that laughter can be the only response to it.”
Article by Deva Dosa