If you’ve never tried laughter yoga, you’re missing out. It’s the most unusual and the least familiar of all the new yoga-fusion class offerings, but it’s also the most delightful, fun, and spirit-lifting. It can give you an immediate mood lift, evaporate your stress levels, and even boost your immune system. And that’s just for starters.
I produce yoga and live music events periodically, and not only do I always make sure to include a laughter yoga session on the line-up, but I always make a point to get over there and participate in it as well. Organizing a large event can get very stressful, especially on the day-of and in the days leading up to it. Laughter yoga never fails to dissipate that stress and put me in the right space to relax and enjoy what I’m doing.
I’ve realized from talking to partticipants at these workshops that many people have no idea what laughter yoga is. They typically come to the session out of curiosity, unsure of what to expect. At the end of it, they’re pleasantly surprised to find not only were they able to laugh and be playful for an extended amount of time with strangers, but they thoroughly enjoyed it. They feel recharged and blissfully happy.
It makes me wonder, though, how many people didn’t show up because they weren’t sure what to expect? I decided to write this post to spread the word about this hidden gem of the yoga world in the hopes that everyone who has the chance to experience it will at least give it a try.
What Exactly is Laughter Yoga?
I’m not a laughter yoga teacher. But, thankfully, I have a good friend who is. Her name is Leticia Cruz, and she’s a registered yoga teacher who’s also certified as a laughter yoga facilitator. She’s led sessions at my events, as well as at the chiropractic wellness center and the addiction treatment center my husband and I owned. In fact, she still teaches yoga at the addiction center several times a week and will be leading laughter yoga at my upcoming event in March 2020.
We got together for lunch last week to talk about laughter yoga, and she shared her knowledge and insights with me, so I could give you a more informed perspective on the topic. (Thank you, Leticia!)
Here’s the Scoop…
Laughter Yoga was created by Dr. Madan Kataria, a cardiologist from India, in 1995. While studying the health benefits of laughter, he concluded we get the same benefits from fake laughter as we do from genuine laughter. Fake laughter engages the same muscles and also activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Endorphins get released, producing a calming effect, whether our laughter is real or fake. Inspired by these findings, he set out to create opportunities for people to engage in sustained, voluntary laughter.
Initially, this took the form of laughter clubs meeting in the park and telling jokes. But, soon he realized the jokes weren’t needed. Because laughter is so contagious, all that was really needed was at least one person laughing. And, anything could inspire it, including simple playfulness or laughing for no reason at all.
Today, laughter yoga is a phenomenon across the world, with facilitators being trained in specific techniques intended to produce specific results. There are over 1600 laughter clubs worldwide. You can learn more about Dr. Kataria’s Laughter Yoga University here.
Benefits of Laughter Yoga
The benefits of laughter yoga are the same as the benefits of laughter in general (source):
- Enhances intake of oxygen-rich air
- Stimulates many organs and muscles, including the abdomen, heart, and lungs
- Releases endorphins (the feel-good chemical in your brain)
- Reduces stress
- Improves immune system
- Can relieve pain
- Improves your mood
What’s so great about laughter yoga, as opposed to regular laughter, is you get more of these benefits, because you’re prolonging your laughter for the length of the session. Typically, these run from around 30 minutes to an hour. That’s a lot of laughter!
You might be wondering how it’s possible to laugh for so long, especially without jokes or other standard forms of comedy. Well, it’s the structure of the class that makes this possible.
What Happens in a Laughter Yoga Session?
According to Leticia, laughter yoga involves four key components: yogic breathing, clapping, playfulness, and laughter exercises. There are some breathing techniques included between the other exercises, but the laughter itself is also a form of pranayama (breath control). It forces us to exhale longer, flushing out the stale air from the bottom of our lungs. The breathing techniques interspersed between exercises give you a chance to relax, so you’re not laughing non-stop for the entire time. And trust me, you need this. Your stomach gets a little sore from the laughing by the end of it.
Clapping stimulates the nerves and blood vessels, as well as acupressure points, in the hands. This increases energy levels. Additionally, the patterned clapping helps build group synchronicity.
Expect to Be Playful
The childlike playfulness helps everyone loosen up and not be too shy to participate. This might look like saying gibberish words or moving your body in goofy ways, which of course encourages laughter. It might be everyone cheering “Very good, very good, very good, yay”, then throwing their arms up into the air. The positive energy in the room builds.
There are all sorts of laughter exercises that can be used, depending on the facilitator. They typically involve mimicking something we already do in our everyday life, but using laughter to convey the message. For example, argument laughter. With this exercise, you pretend to be in an argument with another participant, expressing yourself only with sounds of laughter while pointing your finger and trying to look angry. Of course, this looks hilarious, and you can’t help but break into real laughter.
The class gradually moves from fake or forced laughter sounds to true laughter as the exercises progress and the group’s laughter becomes more contagious.
You might be thinking none of this sounds like any yoga you’ve ever seen before. And of course, if so, you’d be right. It isn’t. So why is it called Laughter Yoga?
What Puts the Yoga in Laughter Yoga?
I asked Leticia this very question, because I myself was curious. Her response was that laughter yoga draws some techniques from the yogic tradition, such as the breath practices and sometimes even yoga poses. She pointed out, as Dr. Kataria’s site does, that the breathing pattern that occurs naturally during laughter is similar to pranayama techniques. It extends the exhale longer than the inhale, which enables us to rid our lungs of stale air that’s less rich in oxygen, and replaces it with more oxygen-rich air. And, laughter yoga encourages deeper, diaphragmatic breath by training you to breathe and laugh using the belly muscles.
Also, it alters the energy of your body-mind-spirit system and stimulates different organs via the clapping. Apparently, clapping is for more than just celebrating success. It has some surprising health benefits.
“The palms in specific contain nerve and blood vessel endings and stimulating them through clapping helps improve [the] health of organs like [the] kidney, digestive tract, and lower back…There are about 30+ acupressure points in the palms, which are activated when you are clapping. These connect various organs including low back, neck, kidneys, lungs, stomach, etc. and have indirect benefits.” (from the Psychology and Behavioral Science International Journal. Learn more.)
Laughter yoga’s use of clapping offers a different way to reach some of the same goals traditional yoga pursues through physical postures.
A Heart Connection
Dr. Kataria points out on his site that yoga ultimately seeks to connect us, or lead us to union. Laughter yoga helps us connect at the heart level to each other. This has certainly been my experience. After a session of laughing together with strangers, I do feel more connected to them. Maybe that’s because smiling and laughter is universally seen as a sign of openness to each other.
My Take on Laughter Yoga
To me, what feels most right about calling this practice yoga is how it makes me feel at the end. I feel lighter, less stressed, more open to life and other people. I also feel more comfortable in my own skin. More connected to my authentic self. Much like I do at the completion of other forms of yoga practice.
I can be a shy person. I can also tend toward being a serious person. Laughter yoga puts me in touch with my inner child, with all its silly playfulness. It forces me to step out of my comfort zone. Way out of it. I wouldn’t ordinarily do the sort of goofy things laughter yoga asks me to do in front of strangers. Maybe at home with my husband or my son, to make us all laugh. But not so much with strangers.
The beauty of laughter yoga, for me, is that it asks us to take off our masks and be seen in a very unrefined way. It gives us permission to not take ourselves too seriously. And, to let ourselves be laughed at in a safe environment, where the laughter carries absolutely no sting. To look into the eyes of other participants and know that they’re entrusting me with their vulnerability as much as I’m entrusting them with mine is a level of refreshing human contact that’s hard to find.
Ultimately, when I walk out of a laughter yoga session, I feel like every worry, every stress, every drop of negativity I might have carried in with me has been removed. I feel the endorphin release like a glow throughout my entire being. It’s transformative.
Where to Find Laughter Yoga
So, if your curiosity’s been piqued and you want to give it a try, you might be wondering where you can find a laughter yoga class. You can use Dr. Kataria’s laughter club finder to find options in or near your area. You can also just type in laughter yoga near me in your browser or look for laughter yoga groups on meetup.com.
Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as widespread at this point as many other yoga class options. But, it’s growing. While Leticia doesn’t typically offer pure laughter yoga classes at the many places she teaches, she does sometimes incorporate it into her regular class as a 20-minute segment. You might ask your local yoga studios if they have any teachers who incorporate laughter yoga into their classes.
Often times, studios, conferences, or other yoga events offer laughter yoga as a special workshop. So, you can keep an eye out for those opportunities as well. You might even let your favorite yoga studio know you’re interested. That way, if they’re trying to plan some unique workshop offerings, they can consider bringing in laughter yoga.
I hope this article inspires you to give laughter yoga a try. Sometimes, it’s the unusual, out-of-the-box experiences that bring the most joy and the big transformative shifts. This practice definitely packs the potential to do that for you.
For a similarly inspired practice, check out my Smiling Meditation article. It offers many of the same mood-boosting benefits, and you can do it anytime, anywhere. There’s a guided version in the post.
Let me know what you think in the comments section below. Have you tried laughter yoga before? What did you think? Or, do you feel inspired to give it a try?