When we think about laughing, usually the first thing that might come to mind is a comedy show, or little kids playing in a field. Yoga, on the other hand (at least for me) brings to mind a picture of calm and peacefulness, meditation and slow breathing. So laughter and yoga together? Does this mean we will be in a downward dog, laughing through our legs? Hmmm….. that is a funny thought!
What is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter Yoga combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing, resulting in a unique exercise routine, that once you try it, is so simple and fun, that you’ll want to partake in it as often as you can. The physical exercises are used to stimulate laughter. It is quite common to “fake it until you make it”, but usually after about 20 seconds or so, real laughter ensues. The more exercises we do, the easier it becomes to laugh since it is quite contagious. Whether the laughter is fake or real, the body receives the same benefits either way. The goal is to bring us back to our childhood, when we laughed hundreds of times a day for absolutely no reason at all. We didn’t need someone funny on a stage, telling jokes in order for us to laugh. We were joyful, all of us. Another goal is to get us out of our heads. Being intellectual is often looked at as a positive, but unfortunately, it is our intellect that often blocks us from natural laughter as we grow older, and live a life with added stress.
If you think back to a time when you laughed so hard and couldn’t stop, I’m sure you will recall that it was difficult to catch your breath. Almost as if you forgot to breathe while you were laughing, and then all of a sudden you’d have to take a big, deep breath, before you could continue with the outburst. That expelling of all the air, followed by such a big inhale, is exactly the reason for the ‘Yoga’ portion of Laughter Yoga. That type of breathing has a powerful effect on our physiology and can influence the body and mind. And of course, it’s also great marketing to call it ‘Yoga’.
If someone were to ask you What is Laughter Yoga, you could offer them a short summary that it is a mind-body exercise using laughter, that cultivates child-like playfulness and joy, resulting in many benefits.
History of Laughter Yoga
In March 1995, Dr. Madan Kataria was writing an article for a health journal on the benefits of laughter on the mind and body. He decided that he wanted to test out these benefits, and so he went to the park and was able to get a few people to join him and form a laughter club. Within a few days they had over 50 people. The group would gather and one person would tell a joke or a funny story but after two weeks the jokes became negative and hurtful. The offended members didn’t want to return anymore, but Dr. Kataria pleased with them to give him just one day to see what he could come up with.
He went home and reviewed his research, and realized that since the body cannot differentiate between real or fake laughter, the group could act out laughter and receive the same results. The very next day, after only a few minutes of acting out the laughter, it soon became real and contagious for the rest of the group. Laughter clubs have spread all over the world, and in this time of a pandemic have provided a real sense of joy and community even if only over the internet.
Benefits of Laughter Yoga
It might be easier to write about the opposite, since there are so many benefits. Let me get started. First of all, it’s an aerobic workout. Missed your gym session today? Then come and laugh with us! The heart rate increase in one minute of hearty laughter is the same as ten minutes on an exercise machine. So imagine the effect after a 30 minutes or so! Living through this pandemic has made us all look at ways to improve our immune system. Laughter Yoga quickly boosts our immune system with fast increases in levels of anti-viral and anti-infecton cells and also, as a little added bonus, cells that fight cancer. So have some laughter with that Vitamin C and you’re good to go!
We often overlook our internal systems, but for many of us, when we are upset, the first place we feel it is in our digestive system, right? Nausea, upset stomach ,etc. Well laughter promotes circulation to the digestive and lymphatic systems, which helps to flush the body of waste, and allowing us to operate at our peak. One of my favorites, is laughter is anti-aging. Forget that expensive anti-wrinkle cream, filled with toxic ingredients. Come laugh with us and reduce wrinles and sagging by toning the facial muscles!
As adults one of the biggest factors in us not laughing as much is the added stress in our lives. And as many of us know, with added stress comes increased levels of cortisol which can actually lead to weight gain. But some laughter decreases levels of cortisol significantly in addition to releasing endorphins in the body. Endorphins not only make us feel good, but they boost optimism, along with self confidence and feelings of self-worth. It’s a win win! Out with the bad, and adding in some extra good. Who can say no to that?!
The final benefits, for me were the most important, and what led me on this journey to become a Laughter Yoga Leader. In a world filled with people having had all different types of inner struggles, which led to them building walls of protection, laughter has the ability to tear those walls down. It allows us to connect with others on a deep and profound level. They say that you will know someone better in one hour of laughter than in a years worth of conversation. It improves social connection, which is the basis of happiness in many countries all around the world. It promotes creativity and focus, which is a major benefit for businesses. And it allows for the release of blocked emotions stored in the body that over time can cause physical impairments.
How can I ‘Do Laughter Yoga’?
One of the best ways, is if you have a group of people willing to try it out, contact me and we can set something up over zoom. If you prefer to do something in person, you can search your area for someone that possibly hosts a class in a park. I know a lot of us, laughter leaders, offer donation based classes outside. Currently I am located in Queens, NY and I teach classes in Long Island, NY and over ZOOM.
The possibilities are endless with laughter. Dr. Kataria’s main goal is to use Laughter Yoga to promote world peace, and I can align with that. ‘The practice of Laughter Yoga causes the body to release into the bloodstream high concentrations of communication substances related to feelings of happiness, warmth, unconditional love, bonding, tolerance, forgiveness, generosity and compassion’ (Laughter Yoga International, 2007). If we could get everyone practicing this, imagine the effects worldwide.