My first taste of laughter yoga was in the basement of a community center i n Toronto, Canada. I was referred there by a good friend, who claimed she’s found “the most hilarious way” to work out. Intrigued by her description I decided to give it a try, as any good excuse to burn calories without stepping on a treadmill is time well spent! Upon arrival, I was surprised to see there were no yoga mats or props any kind in the room, which was oddly spacious and bare. People started to walk in and I was stunned again, this time by the diversity of the group: a young mother with an eight-year-old son, an older retired couple, and a few office workers still wearing suits! Did I come to the wrong place? Before I knew it, our instructor, Lynn, showed up with a smile, and she began to guide us into forming a circle, where we greeted each other with “namaste laughter“ our hands at heart center, with our own expressive, self-defining laughter. This was followed by deep breathing and clapping hands, chanting “ho-ho-ha-ha-ha.” I remember looking into these strangers’ eyes, feeling selfconscious and downright awkward about my forced laughter. Lynn assured us to keep an open mind, maintain eye contact, and simply laugh, regardless of how shy we may feel. She explained that the human body can’t differentiate between real laughter and fake laughter – both deliver the same benefits to our body, so we should fake it until we make it! Lynn herself had the most outrageous high-pitched laughter. Just hearing her laugh was contagious, and helped the rest of us to let go of our reservations and enjoy being silly together. Lynn led us through a series of blizzard and animated laughter exercises, including making imaginary milkshakes, winning the lottery, dancing on the beach, and running through the Amazon rain forest. Fake laughter turned into free-flowing, real laughter, along with spontaneous noises and exaggerated movements. By the end of the hour, we all were lying on the ground with our hands on our bellies, laughing hysterically. What a liberating experience! I thought to myself I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed this much. My body was tingling with joy, and my ab muscles ached as if I had just completed a full set of sit ups. Just as fast as we were led to into an ecstatic state of joy, we relaxed into shavasana, and our energy transitioned smoothly into a euphoric, peaceful state. Soon after my first laughter yoga session I was hooked. My inner child was yearning for more play time and freedom to laugh for no reason. Children laugh on average three hundred times a day, while the average adults laughs only seventeen times daily. Is adulthood so serious that we’ve forgotten how to laugh?
WHAT IS LAUGHTER YOGA?
Laughter yoga originated during the early 1990s in India with Dr. Madan Kataria, who became interested in the growing scientific evidence on the great benefits of laughter to our physical and mental health. Physical benefits include lowering blood pressure, reduction in stress levels, and an increased oxygen supply to the body, which promotes a better immune system. The mental benefits include promoting a positive outlook on life, and keeping us in the present moment. The biggest discovery he found was that our body cannot differentiate between pretend and genuine laughter: both types of laughter deliver the same physiological and psychological benefits. Upon this finding, Dr. Kataria decided to bring more laughter into the world, and created laughter yoga as a prescription for his patients and other people who would benefit from it. Soon, laughter yoga caught on and spread all over the world. Currently, there are laughter yoga clubs in more than a hundred countries around the world, with groups of people meeting regularly to laugh together.
LAUGHTER YOGA AS GROUP THERAPY
I experienced my own transformation with laughter yoga after just a few sessions. The biggest difference I felt was a boost to my overall happiness level. I became more confident when meeting new people. I had more energy every day. I learned to smile even on a bad day. I loved it so much that I decided to bring laughter yoga into my office. I come from the world of finance & accounting, where all my colleagues are always under a tight deadline and constant stress. When the opportunity came at work to find a solution to increase everyone’s productivity, I promptly introduced laughter yoga as a team building and stress relief exercise. It became an instant success! Soon, I was asked to lead laughter yoga, to kick-off important meetings, and to break the ice during cross-functional employee trainings. Laughter yoga even became a regular fundraising activity for the company. When we practice laughter yoga at the office, we put aside our job titles and technical backgrounds, and learn to appreciate and support each other through laughter. The time we dedicate to laughter also gives us more energy, and boosts our productivity at work. Since my first laughter yoga session in Canada, I have done the same workshops in Taiwan with corporate and charity groups, and with social gatherings. Laughter is the universal language that bonds all people together, no matter what their age, sex, gender, occupation or abilities. Now I understand why the practice is called laughter yoga. Through laughter, we can transcend cultures and distances, to connect with the simple essence that makes us human.