The very first question asked by Madan Kataria in the Laughter Yoga Teacher’s Training I attended in 2005 in Interlochen, Switzerland was, “Why do you want to become a Laughter Yoga Teacher?” Personally, I knew absolutely nothing about Laughter Yoga, but I did know I wanted to find an easy and fun way to get the breast cancer survivors I worked with at Gilda’s Club, and especially those with lymphedema, to breathe more deeply, engage their diaphragms, and I knew laughter would automatically accomplish that. Doubtless, at that point in my laughter journey, I was still buried deeply in my left-brain; however, the question remained, what was the connection between laughter and the lymphatic system? Believe me, they connect beautifully on so many levels!
The lymphatic system is a mesh-like network of very fine vessels running parallel to the venous system. It is composed of a superficial system located immediately beneath the skin and above the muscles, as well as a deep system that drains lymph from bones, muscles and joints. Unlike the circulatory system which has the heart to pump the blood in a continuous circle to all parts of the body, the lymphatic system, a simple transport system, has no pump, moves by inertia in a semi-circular manner, and always moves fluid toward the heart.
Basically, the lymphatic network is a highly efficient cleaning conglomerate that is the backbone of the immune system. It continuously collects waste materials from all over the body that are deposited into the tissues via blood capillaries. It then cleans that fluid and returns it back into the circulating blood. Interspersed along the lymphatic pathways, primarily in the armpit, neck, chest, abdomen and groin, are clusters of “cleaning stations”, the lymph nodes, specializing in producing white blood cells (lymphocytes) to clean the fluid, antibodies to defend against future predators, and macrophages to remove all manner of unwanted debris. The clean, healthy fluid is then returned to the blood.
So, what does laughter have to do with it? Very simply this….remember, the lymphatic system has no pump; however, it is capable of being manually moved. The largest lymphatic collecting site in the body is the thoracic duct, located immediately adjacent to the diaphragm. Research has shown that diaphragmatic breathing creates a negative pressure within the thorax, literally sucking lymph into the duct which is then shot out into the rest of the body at up to 15 times the normal flow of lymph. Laughter is the easiest and simplest form of diaphragmatic breathing!
The idea is to MOVE….move your body, move your breath. Any muscular movement will stimulate the flow of lymph, but laughter kicks it out the door! Obviously, any form of laughter is beneficial, but the sustained laughter which is experienced in Laughter Yoga is even that much better. It really gets the lymph moving.
Dr. K remarked during my training in 2005 that before Laughter Yoga, he had been plagued with continual upper respiratory infections, but since he started the Laughter Clubs, he never was sick. I raised my left-brained hand to tell him that I knew why! The more lymph that passes through the nodes, the greater the production of T and B-lymphocytes and the happier and healthier our immune systems will be. This is not really rocket science, but simply the admonition of an ancient proverb, “ Life is in the breath; he who half breathes, half lives.”
My Rx for not only a healthy, but also a MUCH happier life - Live, Love, Laugh…and Let the Lymph Flow!
Sue Ansari RN, BS, CLT-LANA
Foldi, Michael, MD. Textbook of Lymphology for Physicians and LymphedemaTherapists, Urban & Fischer, Munchen, Germany, 2003.