Laughter Yoga. One cold, wet, grey morning last summer I woke up and thought: “You know what – everyone needs a little bit of sunshine in their lives.” This was a massive turning point, as I decided to rebrand from Help! My Partner is Depressed to Let the sunshine in! and somehow in amongst all that this involved, I stumbled across Laughter Yoga on the internet. “Really?” I thought, “Laughter YOGA? How on earth does that work?” I soon found out when I decided to become a teacher of it.
Laughter Yoga is wonderful. It’s hilariously wacky, has great health benefits, and the yoga refers to the deep breathing that is an integral part of it, so there are no yoga postures as such. It’s a unique concept that was started in 1995 by a GP in India. Dr Madan Kataria started with 5 people in a park in Mumbai, and now there are over 10,000 laughter clubs in over 75 countries in the world.
Dr Kataria recognised that sustained bouts of laughter combined with deep breathing can have great benefits to health and wellbeing. Laughter is initiated through gentle laughter exercises which are done in a group or via one-to-one coaching, and one of the amazing things is that even if you just pretend to laugh, you will still get the same physiological and psychological benefits. Another is that you don’t need to have anything funny to laugh about – just make the sounds, and it’ll soon become real laughter anyway. Therefore the laughter is guaranteed – you don’t have to rely on anything or anyone else. Shortly after training I had proof of this as I started laughing quietly to myself, and within a few minutes I had tears rolling down my face, and had to force myself to stop.
Laughter boosts the immune system
There are wonderful health benefits. For example, as soon as you start to laugh endorphins and other feelgood hormones are released into the bloodstream, so it helps you to feel good straight away. Laughter helps to reduce stress, and boosts your immune system. It increases oxygen to the body and brain, helping you to focus and feel more energised. It increases circulation – thereby flushing out toxins and helping your skin to glow. And it can help to release emotions that may have been blocked for some time. It provides great aerobic exercise too.
And there are other, more subtle benefits. Participating in Laughter Yoga increases self esteem and confidence, so your perspective on things could change in a positive way, and you might find that you deal with life’s challenges more effectively. It’s a great way to feel more connected to others too – there’s something very special about recognising that sparkle in each other’s eyes as you laugh and giggle together. Babies know all about this – research shows that they laugh unconditionally hundreds of times a day, whereas most adults laugh only a few times, in short spasmodic bursts, and some people don’t laugh at all. Ideally, spending about 10-15 minutes each day doing deep, free-flowing belly laughter interspersed with deep breathing gives maximum benefit, but weekly sessions can work wonders too.
Sessions always contain laughter exercises and breathing, followed by a period of free-flowing laughter, and end with grounding exercises or relaxation (or both.) An attitude of playfulness and fun is encouraged – this is one time when it is utterly appropriate to be ‘silly’ – in fact it’s a necessary part of the process.
Sometimes it’s too easy to become worn down by what is going on around you, so it’s important to reconnect with your bright side and let the sunshine into your life again whenever you can. Laughter Yoga is the perfect way to do that.