I don’t know about you, but the holidays are often stressful times around my house. With family spread out over three states, and two little girls with lists as long as they are tall, the holiday season is more like work than enjoyment. So as I was pursuing the news headlines, I was intrigued by a style of yoga that is unfamiliar to me, and one that claims to reduce stress, increase your immunity, and make you feel good. I had to find out more.
Laughter yoga is new twist on an ancient practice defined as “combin[ing] laughter exercises and yoga breathing to give you the health benefits of hearty laughter. Laughter exercises almost always lead to real laughter, especially when practiced in a group.” Practitioners and teachers of Laughter Yoga claim that it significantly reduces stress levels, and releases a “cocktail of hormones and chemicals that have positive effects on our system.” Yes, we have all heard that laughter heals, and those of us who practice yoga of any sort can attest to its positive effects. So the results are not surprising, after all “laughter is the best medicine.”
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And it seems to be catching on. Across the globe proponents of this practice are joyously practicing laughter together every week. From South Africa to Canada, India to Laguna Beach, Laughter Yoga is all the rage. The practice, as contrary as it may seem, is not based in humor, but uses simulated laughter coupled with pranayama-like exercises to support the natural expression of a deep full-bellied laugh. This is a communal experience, and meant to be practiced in a group. Oceanna Hall, a Laughter Yoga teacher in Canada, says that while humor is often cultural and contextual, laughter is the same wherever you go. To anyone on the planet, smiles and laughter convey a message of welcome and safety. And because laughter is an expression of joy and playfulness, even simulated laughter can bring about an elevation in mood and a lowering of stress, and usually leads to real laughter.
People of all walks of life are trying this out, and the response is generally favorable. One reporter in South Florida expressed that it "was a blast." Though all of the articles I read commented on the awkwardness of the practice in the beginning, mentioning that it felt forced and contrived, by the end all of these people remarked on how amazing and enjoyable the experience had been, and how much better they felt afterward. So my interest is piqued. There are not any laughter yoga classes or laughter groups in my area that I know of, but I will be looking around as I travel to try this phenomenon out. Even though it seems a little silly to pretend to laugh and breathe, I guess that is the whole point. Laughter is silly, unbound, and joyous. It produces emotional, mental and physical responses of happiness. Just as a child giggles at the smallest thing, or finds herself laughing hysterically for no reason at all, we all still have that childlike exuberance within us. Maybe Laughter Yoga is just help we need to remember it.
For more information on Laughter Yoga or to find a Teacher or Laughing Club in your area, check out the website www.laughteryoga.org.