Last Updated: November 14, 2019
Laughter yoga is a new twist on an ancient practice. Not only does it increase happiness, but it also strengthens the immune system, reduces pain and lowers stress.
More contagious than a cough or sneeze, laughter relaxes the whole body. It triggers the release of endorphins, promoting an overall sense of well-being. When combined with yogic breathing, laughter truly becomes the best medicine, providing extensive health benefits.
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In the mid-1990s, the Indian physician Madan Kataria developed laughter yoga based on the concept that voluntary laughter could provide the same health benefits as spontaneous laughter. after, it spread worldwide, sparking the creation of Laughter Yoga Clubs where people would gather to practice. Instead of using humor, laughter is initiated through creative exercise. Practitioners do not have to master any of the traditional yoga postures. They simply need to laugh. As of 2011, more than 65 countries were home to over 8,000 laughter clubs.
Sebastien Gendry, CEO of the American School of Laughter, puts it in the context of laughter wellness. “Laughter is the tool. Yoga is the end.” He adds, “It’s not about happiness but finding meaning through practice and understanding that how we feel is a choice.”
Classes typically start with some socializing and talk about laughter.1 Next, the group will warm up with some stretching and breathing exercises. Then the laughter games start. Sessions end with silent meditation.
During this type of yoga, laughs should come from the diaphragm. Those full belly laughs provide the most benefits. In general there are four basic steps:
Each step has specific elements. For example, during childlike playfulness, practitioners lift their arms in the air, which helps lift their mood. It can also trigger happy memories or thoughts.
There is no set time for how much participants laugh during a laughter yoga session. With a combination of guided or forced laughter and contagious laughter that naturally occurs, seniors in these sessions can expect to be laughing quite a bit of the time. A typical session with a warm-up include some chanting activities that can easily develop into laughter. As the repetitive chants become gibberish, it can inspire mirth in the participants, causing their spontaneous laughter to take over.
The whole session is a guided practice of deep belly laughter. Once the warm-up exercises have the yoga students relaxed, the instructor may begin to explore new types of laughter:
The main goal of laughter yoga is to release stress and the physical and mental tension that often go along with it. The more participants laugh during the sessions, the greater the benefits they are likely to receive.
Laughing for a sustained period of time is key to reaping the health benefits of this type of yoga. Classes routinely help students laugh steadily for 15 to 20 minutes.
The results? Increased oxygen intake and blood flow, improved blood vessel function, and lower blood pressure. This helps protect your heart, boosts energy, dissolves stress and allows you to gain focus.
Gendry, also the founder of Laughter Online University, describes the value of laughter yoga as a complement to low-impact cardiovascular exercise for seniors. It requires no special equipment or environment, and it’s universally available. Plus, it’s fun and can easily be practiced at home. As Gendry puts it, “In a sedentary age of sharply rising health care costs and mental health challenges, laughter yoga’s benefits and accessibility ought to gain more public attention.”
Laughter yoga can promote health and wellness for caregivers and seniors alike. At the Ballard Northwest Senior Center, it is offered as part of the fitness program and caregivers who spend some time in the yoga session can benefit equally from those laughs.
In his 20 years with the movement, Gendry has determined what people like most about laughter yoga:
Unfortunately, caregivers often neglect their own health their caregiving duties. But taking time to laugh, socialize and just breathe can improve their performance on the job. If the senior enjoys laughter yoga too, it’s something they can talk about–and even laugh about–when they’re together.
Have you tried laughter yoga? Please share your thoughts on the experience.
1What Happens in a Laughter Yoga Session. (2018, March 27). Retrieved from https://laughteryoga.org/what-happens-in-a-laughter-yoga-session/.