When was the last time you laughed really hard? Not a chuckle or a giggle, but a deep, belly-jiggling guffaw. Today? Yesterday? Can’t remember? That’s alright if you can’t recall. But I bet you still remember how good it felt! Laughter has so many benefits that it’s truly mind-boggling why most of us don’t laugh more often. Today, I’ll introduce you to laughter yoga – a branch of yoga that’s probably unlike anything you’ve seen or heard before!
What Is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter yoga is not the kind of yoga most of us are familiar with. You know, the ones where people work on different yoga poses and meditate to achieve inner peace and relaxation. Rather, this kind of yoga is, shall I say, more fun?
If you see a group of people rolling around in laughter and cackling and guffawing like there’s no tomorrow, then chances are it’s a laughter yoga session. Laughter yoga is a fast-growing global phenomenon that’s bringing joy and positivity into many people’s lives. It combines the power of yoga breathing exercises (called pranayama) with laughter.
It’s perfect for anyone who’s looking to have fun whilst getting a subtle workout. Diaphragmatic laughter exercises your abdominal area, your torso, and your facial muscles. Sustained, genuine laughter increases your heart rate and helps you burn calories in the process (1).
How Did Laughter Yoga Start?
Contrary to its worldwide popularity today, laughter yoga actually had humble beginnings. Its founder, Dr. Madan Kataria, wanted to test the theory that laughter is indeed the best medicine. So, he decided to form a laughter club in 1995. Sounds fun, right? I mean who wouldn’t want to join such a club? But only 5 people attended the first session in a Mumbai park, with Dr. Kataria and his wife among the attendees.
At first, jokes and humor were the medium for getting people to laugh. But eventually, the jokes ran out. Dr. Kataria had to think of a sustainable way to get people to laugh without resorting to comedy. Knowing that the mind can’t tell the difference between fake and real laughter, he soon came up with several exercises to get people laughing. And laughter yoga – as we know it today – was born!
To date, there are more than 20,000 yoga laughter clubs in more than 100 countries. If you don’t have one in your area, the official Laughter Yoga University website offers an online Skype laughter club. Feel free to join and laugh along in the comfort of your own home!
What Are The Benefits Of Laughter Yoga?
Aside from making you laugh, there are other tangible benefits to laughter yoga. Here are some of them:
It improves your mood immediately
Watching funny videos on YouTube or a nice comedy on Netflix can uplift your mood. But laughter yoga is on another level. You’re going to be laughing for several minutes at a time. Sessions last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Sustained laughter will definitely help boost your mood and make you feel good for the rest of the day! This is all thanks to endorphins or the so-called ‘happy hormone’ that are released when we laugh heartily.
It helps ease your pain
Everyone can do laughter yoga – alone or with a group. Laughter is free and everyone can use a good laugh from time to time. This is especially true for a group of volunteer community care workers in South Africa. Laughter therapy helped them overcome emotional exhaustion and secondary trauma. They were able to develop a more positive mindset and take better control of their emotions (2).
The more you practice laughter yoga, the easier it will be for you to start seeing the world in a positive light. You’ll learn to loosen up and laugh at yourself and your problems instead of drowning in them.
It’s great for your muscles, heart, and lungs
Laughter yoga also has wonderful physical effects on your body. When you laugh, your muscles contract. Prolonged belly laughter helps tone your belly muscles. It’s like a mini-workout without actually doing any physical exercise, aside from laughing!
According to Wagner et al., laughter yoga is a demanding exercise for trunk muscles. When laughing heartily, you may find yourself clutching your abdomen and your sides. This isn’t surprising according to the study. Apparently, laughter yoga is comparable to doing crunches and back lifting exercises (3).
It decreases stress levels
There are plenty of stressors around us. Whether it’s personal or job-related, no one’s exempt from stress. While short-term stress can be good, chronic stress is the exact opposite. A good bout of spontaneous or fake laughter (remember, your brain can’t tell the difference) can reduce your cortisol levels and help you feel less stressed.
It helps lower blood pressure
Medication for high blood pressure is available, but did you know laughter therapy or laughter yoga can also help lower blood pressure? In a study done on 20 hypertensive patients, laughter yoga proved to be very helpful for them. A daily laughter yoga session contributed to a significant reduction in the patients’ blood pressure (4)!
Laughter yoga helps you breathe in more fresh oxygen and expel stale air in your lungs. You’ve also got more endorphins and less cortisol circulating in your body. It’s therefore not surprising that laughter can also help boost your immunity. According to Dr. Lee Berk, an expert on laughter and how it affects the body, laughter leads to an increase in “killer cell” activity which is a sign of a healthy immune system.
How Does Laughter Yoga Work?
Now that you know the amazing benefits of laughter yoga, here’s how it works:
Start by warming up
Laughter yoga is just like any other type of yoga – you also need to warm up. Start by clapping rhythmically. To stimulate pressure points, clap finger to finger and palm to palm. Then do some breathing exercises, such as breathing from the nose and exhaling from the mouth. Your instructor will also encourage playful, childlike exercises to help you relax and loosen your inhibitions. Then you’ll proceed to the fun part – various laughter exercises!
Make a commitment to laugh
It’s hard to laugh when there’s nothing funny going on. But in laughter yoga, you’ll need to fake it until you make it. It’s especially hard when you’re new to a group and everyone’s a stranger. But I promise, once you start fake laughing and seeing others laugh along with you, your fake laughter will soon turn real.
Laughter yoga combines laughter with yogic breathing
Yogic breathing or pranayama is essential to laughter yoga. Remember, one of the goals of laughter yoga is to get as much air as possible into the lungs while expelling all the residue air inside. Several exercises are designed to help you achieve full inhalation and full exhalation, so you’ll be able to do yogic breathing with no problem.
Encourage childlike playfulness
Children laugh so much more than us adults, don’t they? They can laugh spontaneously at the slightest provocation. Oftentimes, they don’t even need a reason to laugh. They laugh because they want to. During laughter yoga, you’ll be encouraged to rediscover your inner child so you can laugh more freely and more openly!
Learn to live in the moment
This type of yoga is so powerful because it forces you to focus on the present. It literally drives away all the negativity that surrounds you. If you’re feeling sad or depressed, laugh it all away! Laughter yoga allows you to connect and build new relationships with people. Best of all, it allows you to see the world in a different light. You learn to laugh at yourself and deal with problems in a more positive way.
Should You Try Laughter Yoga?
Oh yes, absolutely! No matter how old you are or what you’re going through right now, you can benefit from lots of laughter. Laughing is free and there are practically no side effects, so make it a regular part of your day. You don’t need yoga clothes or any special tools to participate. Just bring yourself, have an open mind, and laugh your problems away!
Laughter yoga goes just beyond laughing and having fun. It can have real, tangible effects in your life. It can boost your mood, melt your stress away, and even help improve your immunity. Laughter may not cure everything, but it sure is the best free medicine everyone can afford!
(1) Buchowski, M S et al. “Energy expenditure of genuine laughter.” International journal of obesity (2005) vol. 31,1 (2007): 131-7. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803353
(2) Hatzipapas, Irene et al. “Laughter therapy as an intervention to promote psychological well-being of volunteer community care workers working with HIV-affected families.” SAHARA J : Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance vol. 14,1 (2017): 202-212. doi:10.1080/17290376.2017.1402696
(3) Wagner, Heiko et al. “Laughing: a demanding exercise for trunk muscles.” Journal of motor behavior vol. 46,1 (2014): 33-7. doi:10.1080/00222895.2013.844091
(4) K, Angeline. (2018). Laughter Yoga for Patients with Hypertension, India. Open Access Journal of Cardiology. 2. 10.23880/OAJC-16000120.