Laughter yoga is a technique for reducing stress, stimulating circulation, strengthening the respiratory system, and boosting the immune system.
by Wendy Priesnitz
A group of adults is walking in a circle around a workout studio. They suddenly begin to roar, “Ho, ho, hah, hah” at each other. They belong to a Laughter Club and are practicing an offshoot of yoga called “laughter yoga” or “hasya yoga.” Over the next 20 minutes, the group works through a variety of exercises, from conventional yoga stretching through laughter techniques like hearty laughter, silent laughter, lion laughter, swinging laughter, one meter laughter, cocktail laughter, gradient laughter and many others. Soon, everyone in the room is laughing spontaneously and uproariously.
It might seem odd that something as ordinary as laughing has become the focus of an exercise class. But in these stressful times, we have apparently either forgotten how to laugh or just don’t find much that’s funny. According to a study done by Dr. Michael Titze, a German psychologist, in the 1950s people used to laugh 18 minutes a day, but today we laugh not more than six minutes a day. Kids do better, laughing up to 400 times in a day, compared to the adult laughter rate of just 15 times a day.
Since laughter is good for our health, some people are “faking it ’til they make it”…and reaping great benefits. According to the principles of laughter yoga, laughing gives a constant massage to the digestive tract and also improves blood supply to all the internal organs. It stimulates blood circulation, which helps to transport nutrients all over the body, and it also strengthens our respiratory apparatus, which supplies oxygen to the body.
Boosting your immune system through laughter yoga may prevent the more than 70 percent of illnesses that have some connection to stress, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, frequent coughs and colds, peptic ulcers, insomnia, allergies, asthma, menstrual difficulties, tension headaches, stomach upsets, and even cancer. In addition to physical health benefits, laughter can also have a positive effect on mental, social, and spiritual well-being.
It has long been known that laughter is a great antidote to negative emotions. In the 1960s, Norman Cousins, an editor at the Saturday Review, was struck with ankylosing spondylitis, a degenerative disease of the connective tissue. Reasoning that positive emotions could have a healing effect on the human body, he conducted a grand experiment, which consisted of watching hours of Marx Brother movies and reruns of the television show Candid Camera. He wrote about it in his book Anatomy of an Illness, originally published in 1979.
One of the things Cousins discovered was that a ten-minute belly laugh could give him two hours of painless sleep. Other research has confirmed that endorphins released as a result of laughter may help in reducing the intensity of pain in those suffering from arthritis, spondylitis and muscular spasms. Many women have reported a reduced frequency of migraine headaches after joining a Laughter Yoga Club.
Dr. Peter Axt, a retired professor of health science at Fulda University in Germany, and his daughter Dr. Michaela Axt-Gadermann have found that laughter, by creating serotonin, is actually better for a person than running. Calling themselves reformed long-distance runners, the father/daughter team note in their book The Joy of Laziness that laughter increases heart rate and raises blood pressure without producing dangerous free radicals. “The heartbeat races and blood pressure is raised for a short while, without activating your metabolism and producing the free radicals which spend your life energy. Basically, laughing is a good training session without the negative side-effects.” Standford University’s Dr. William Fry claims that one minute of laughter is equal to 10 minutes on the rowing machine.
And that is the main idea behind laughter yoga, which was developed by Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India dubbed “the Guru of Giggling” by the London Times. His organization Laughter Yoga International aims to spread the concept around the world. At present there are thousands of Laughter Clubs in India, USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, to name just a few countries.
Along with his partner Madhur Kataria, the doctor hopes to set up a team of doctors from various specialties and systems of medicine to conduct scientific studies and research work into the benefits of laughter. Perhaps less useful but more fun, the Katarias have dubbed the first Sunday of May as “World Laughter Day.” At one event, ten thousand people filled a public square in Copenhagen, Denmark to laugh together. The photo above was taken at the 2016 World Laughter Day celebration in Auroville, India.
Kataria says that the very essence of laughing without a reason lies in developing your child-like spirit and playful attitude. If you can do that, laughter – and the accompanying benefits – will come to you with great ease.