Laughter yoga could be an effective alternative therapy for reducing depression and improving mental health in the short term, according to the findings of a recent study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
The investigators randomly assigned 50 participants diagnosed with a depressive disorder into 2 groups: a laughter yoga intervention group (n=23) and a treatment-as-usual group (n=27). The laughter yoga group was offered yoga sessions twice a week for over 4 weeks. Each session was composed of
- warm-up exercises,
- deep breathing exercises,
- childlike playfulness, and
- laughter exercises.
The usual treatment group received a general routine community mental health care that included medication and outpatient appointments. Both groups completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale and the Short Form 12 item Health Survey at the beginning, the end, and 3 months post-study.
The laughter yoga group showed a greater decrease in depression than the usual treatment group from the beginning to the end of the study (B=-5.123; 95% confidence interval [CI], -9.527 to -0.72; P =.023). However, after 3 months, there was no significant difference in the change in depression the groups (B=-2.724; 95% CI, -7.106 to 1.658; P =.223). Mental health-related quality of life also saw an improvement in the laughter yoga group compared with the control group from the beginning to the end of the study (B=4.386; 95% CI, 0.342-8.43; P =.034). However, at 3 months the improvement in mental health quality of life was not significantly different between groups (B=3.775; 95% CI, -0.883 to 8.432; P =.112).
Most of the study participants expressed to the investigators that the simulated laughter and breathing exercises helped them relieve stress or tension, and feel happier. Many participants mentioned that they could not practice laughter yoga at home because of fear of public criticism, which might be associated with the lack of further improvements in depression and mental health quality of life after 3 months. The researchers acknowledge some study limitations, including the small study size sample and type of control group selected.
Researchers concluded that while laughter yoga is associated with significant improvements in depression and mental health quality of life, they recommend modifications to the study protocol for a potential future full-scale randomized controlled trial.
Bressington D, Mui J, Yu C, et al. Feasibility of a group-based laughter yoga intervention as an adjunctive treatment for residual symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress in people with depression [published online January 28, 2019]. J Affect Disord. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2019.01.030.