Introduction of Laughter Yoga
Regular practice of yoga has countless health benefits. While there are many forms of yoga and types of asanas, there is also a branch of yoga called Laughter yoga or Laughing yoga (LY).
Laughter is believed to be beneficial to individuals because it reduces anxiety and stress, renders pain manageable and bolsters the immune system. By laughing, the theory goes, you’re able to keep your cool in a stressful work situation, make peace with the hurt and pain in your past or deal with the stress of a serious illness.
Laughing yoga involves a series of movements and breathing exercises that promote deliberate laughter. Laughter therapy can’t take the place of conventional therapies entirely, but there is increasing evidence that a few hearty chuckles can help you along the road to recovery.
Theory of laughter therapy
The healing properties of laughter have been extolled since biblical times; “Anatomy of an Illness (As Perceived by the Patient),” written by Norman Cousins in 1979. When Cousins was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, he was given very slim odds of recovery. He was unable to move and in constant pain. He credits his recovery to a prescription of “Candid Camera” episodes, Marx Brothers movies and funny stories read by nurses. With 10 minutes of laughter, he wrote, two hours of pain-free sleep could be procured.
That could be because laughter has been called internal jogging, and it may confer all the psychological benefits of a good workout. The act of laughing stimulates hormones called catecholamines, which in turn release the happy juice — endorphins. With endorphins surging through our bloodstream, we’re more apt to feel happy and relaxed. With each laugh, therefore, we’re relieving stress, reducing anxiety and increasing our stores of personal energy. All of these psychological and physiological results are wonderful tools in coping with illness, a hospital stay or even just a cranky coworker.
Though laughing therapy has been used for decades, Laughter Yoga was discovered by Dr. Madan Kataria, a family physician in Mumbai, India, in 1995. Dr. Kataria claims that laughing yoga will help lift your mood, reduce stress, strengthen your immune system, increase energy levels, improve your quality of life, and help you better manage hardship. Since you cannot always rely on external influences to make you laugh, learning to laugh on your own can be a valuable tool.
What to expect?
Laughing yoga is practiced in a group setting led by a trained laughing yoga instructor, who coaches people through various exercises to promote laughter and enjoyment. Most of the laughing yoga sessions begin with simple breathing technique, clapping and chanting that can help people relax. For example, you may begin the class by clapping rhythmically 1-2, 1-2-3 whole chanting “ho-ho, ha-ha-ha”. The session may also include exercises like positive affirmations, gentle stretching, yoga breathwork and meditation. All this helps you laugh, let loose and forget the worries of the real world temporarily.
Fake laughter can be just as effective as real laughter, meaning that a laughter therapy session is just as likely to involve that zany Garfield as it is to involve a laughter coach imploring you to pretend your arms are paws and roar with laughter. Or perhaps you’ll be invited to exercise some lawnmower laughter, in which you pretend to start up a mower with a few warm-up chuckles, eventually revving up to powerful laughter. People who lead laughter therapy sessions have found that these fake laughs usually give way to the real kind.
Benefits of Laughter Yoga
- Effective cardio workout – improves cardiopulmonary endurance and helps burn calories.
- Aerobic exercise – Laughter Yoga exercises are devised to facilitate longer exhalation and deep breathing through the diaphragm. This helps in flushing the lungs of stale residual air and increasing the net supply of oxygen to the body and brain. This helps us feel healthier and more energetic and relieves of pain and stress.
- Increases Blood Circulation – Laughter dilates blood vessels and improves pumping of the heart, thereby increasing blood circulation. It is like ‘internal jogging’ that massages and promotes circulation to the digestive and lymphatic systems. It increases circulation to flush the body and organs of waste products leaving us ready to operate at peak performance.
- Best Stress Buster – laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and triggers the release of a feel-good chemical known as ‘Endorphin’ in our body which puts us in a good mood naturally.
A Cautionary Note
While you may be laughing through anxiety and pain, the actual act of laughing shouldn’t hurt. Because laughter does cause a little physical strain, laughter therapy may not be advisable for pregnant women, those with hernias or patients that went through intensive surgery. If you’re practicing your laughter with a group, be wary of cold or flu sufferers who may laugh their germs on everyone, particularly when working with patients with compromised immune systems.
Laughter yoga is growing in popularity as a fun way to laugh and take yourself less seriously. It is recommended to get it performed only by a trained professional in order to learn the correct movement and breathing techniques. Make sure to consult a trained Laughter Yoga therapist regarding the best approach for you. Laughter yoga is a very effective complementary technique for pain relief and better health.
All in all, laughing yoga is a great way to let loose, have fun, and learn the joy of laughing again.