Combine a good belly laugh with yogic breathing and poses and what have you got? Introducing laughter yoga! Where the benefits of yoga and laughter intersect.
Many changes have occurred in the fitness industry over the past 25 years. Rigorous high-impact classes gave way to high- and low-impact mixes, patterned and structured step classes, and ultimately Zumba. There is something out there for everyone.
Yoga has a longer history. Ancient Sanskrit instructions give the discipline a start date of 3000 BC. It has transformed and reinvented itself through the ages, branching into many different styles that combine poses with breathing, diet, and lifestyle. Bikram yoga, for instance, involves cranking the heat up to intensify the poses.
Now we have laughter yoga—a new and playful activity that combines the benefits of both laughter and yoga to produce a positive effect and enhanced fitness.
The history of laughter yoga
In 1995 Dr. Madan Kataria recognized the benefits of laughter and yoga and launched a small laughter club that combined the elements of yogic breathing, some stretching and movement, and a great deal of belly laughing. The result was a class that continues to grow in popularity. The laughter yoga website claims that there are now 6,000 laughing clubs worldwide.
The benefits of laughter
Laughter is universal across our species and has been recognized in the great apes. The benefits of laughter are numerous. Groucho Marx once said, “A clown is like Aspirin, only he works twice as fast.” It is generally a given that laughter is good for you.
There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence of laughter being a good general workout. Some call it internal jogging. When my grandfather used to say, “I laughed until my sides ached,” after watching Red Skelton on television, he really meant that they had a good abdominal workout.
Scientific research has also uncovered many benefits of laughing. For instance, recent studies have found that laughter
- increased blood vessel diameter in study participants watching a funny movie
- lowered blood pressure in heart attack survivors with diabetes who watched 30 minutes of humour a day for a year, in combination with standard treatment
- raised HDL (good) cholesterol in high risk diabetic patients with hypertension, in combination with standard treatment
- can release endorphins and elevate pain tolerance
- increased quality of life and resilience in breast cancer survivors
- decreased depression and improved sleep quality in elderly study participants who engaged in laughter therapy four times in one month
The benefits of yoga
Yoga is not just about fitness. It is a mind-body practice that can incorporate lifestyle, philosophy, mindfulness, and spirituality. It is a way of bringing awareness to breathing, as well as correcting and building on posture. The generally recognized benefits of yoga include
- increased flexibility
- improved control of breath and potential increase in lung capacity
- improved body alignment and balance
- increased strength
- stress reduction and mental calmness
- reduced heart rate and blood pressure
Recently, research has pointed to the benefit of yoga to a host of health concerns.
- Yoga was shown to have a positive effect on people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis in a small study from 2011.
- A randomized controlled trial from 2011 involving 228 participants reported that yoga can ease moderate chronic low back pain.
- A 2010 study found that yoga can improve mood and decrease anxiety more than walking.
What to expect during laughter yoga
Where many yoga classes are meditative, contemplative, and serene as participants move through a variety of poses, laughter yoga classes are noisy and interactive and rely on the contagiousness of laughter. They combine breathing, posture, and variations on laughter. Best of all, they don’t require spandex shorts.
Like regular yoga that incorporates poses such as “downward dog” and “triangle,” a laughter yoga class works through a series of activities.
In “milkshake laughter” you pretend to mix the ingredients of a milkshake and then drink it while belly laughing.
“Lion laughter” means holding your hands like claws and laughing at other participants while distending your tongue. Don’t use this one on your boss around the office while asking for a raise.
However, “argument laughter” may go over well in the corporate world. Everyone shakes their index fingers at everyone else and argues. Instead of words, they belly laugh to make their points.
Finally, “electric shock laughter” means touching another’s index finger, jumping back, and laughing.
Laughter yoga is likely something you can practise at home or in the office when you tire of doing headstands in front of the water cooler, but you may need to brace yourself for confrontation with other staff and clients.
To enhance the benefits of laughter yoga and avoid any strange glances your way, you should try to attend a laughter yoga club. This is also because laughter is contagious. I tried a laughter yoga activity at the end of a seniors’ fitness class I taught the other day, and the resulting laughter grew to the point that the program coordinator and staff came by to see what was happening.
You can find laughter yoga clubs worldwide listed on the international website, laughteryoga.org.
World Laughter Day is May 6
May 6, World Laughter Day, designed by Dr. Madan Kataria himself, may have escaped your notice. Perhaps you missed it every first Sunday of May since 1998. It promotes world peace and is meant to encourage a global consciousness of togetherness and friendship through laughter. Now that you know, how are you going to celebrate this World Laughter Day?
As for me, I am scheduled to teach a step class that day, so you can rest assured that all my participants will participate in a group belly laugh. When I get home, I’ll be chasing my grandkids around the house by pointing and belly laughing. This will likely be my last year of this, as they’re getting big, and they may well be belly laughing me around the house.