More and more people around the world are becoming interested in the many benefits of laughter as part of a holistic approach to wellbeing and there seems to be a great deal of discussion and many ideas and misunderstandings about what Laughter Yoga actually is.
In this ‘Ultimate Guide to Laughter Yoga’ I’ll be sharing with you the science, philosophies, principles and techniques that make unconditional laughter such an effective and all inclusive practice.
My aim is to simply explain what Laughter Yoga is and to encourage those who feel drawn to laughter as a practice for achieving sustainable health and wellbeing benefits, to take the next step on this most joyful of journeys.
What is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter Yoga is both a joyful way of ‘being’ in the world and a series of therapeutic techniques that enable anyone to bring more joy into their lives without the need for comedy, jokes or humour.
The word “Yoga” itself is an ancient Sanskrit word that means to “yoke” or “come together as one”. In Laughter Yoga, the outcome of togetherness is exactly the same. Through laughter we can more easily connect with each other and to our true, authentic selves which naturally leads to more peace and joy in our world.
Physiologically, we all instinctively know that laughter is good for us and there is a fast growing body of scientific evidence that demonstrates exactly why this is the case, which I’ll go into more later. We’ve all heard that “Laughter is the best medicine” and we always feel better after we’ve been laughing. It is fairly safe to assume, therefore, that if we laugh more often, we will feel better more often.
The core principle behind the practice of Laughter Yoga is that of ‘unconditional laughter’ and it can have a very powerful effect, particularly on those who have not experienced hearty laughter for some time. With regular practice laughter can help us to develop a more playful presence in our daily lives as we more frequently notice the joy in each and every moment.
As a healing modality, laughter can be effectively used to help people to naturally come alive and flower again from the inside out, which is essential to achieving any lasting change. Laughter Yoga is not about pretending to be happy, it is about recognising the joy inherent with life itself and committing to experiencing each moment in a more positive, more present way.
As a physician, Dr. Madan Kataria knew very well the many physical health benefits that laughter could bring when, in 1995, he founded the first ever Laughter Club with just 5 people in a Mumbai park.
Each day the club grew a little larger as more and more people became interested in this new idea but, it soon became apparent that the problem with using any form of comedy, jokes or humour to stimulate our laughter is that:
- What one person finds funny another does not (ie comedy, jokes and humour have a limited capacity for producing universally positive emotions) and
- We require something funny to ‘happen’ before we laugh (and therefore if something funny doesn’t happen, we don’t laugh and don’t get the benefits).
Dr. Kataria had already made the firm connection between laughter and good health and now a new method of delivering the medicine was urgently required. This was his Eureka! moment and together with his wife Madhuri (herself a Hatha Yoga practitioner), the concept of Laughter Yoga was born.
11 reasons to do Laughter Yoga?
There are many very good reasons to practice Laughter Yoga every day. Here are 11 of my favorites.
- Deep Breathing.
The average laugh is quite shallow, originating from the chest area (the top 1/3rd of the lungs) and is quite short (only 3-5 seconds in length). Laughter Yoga helps us to extend and deepen our breath into the belly. To get the full health benefits from laughter we need to belly laugh for at least 10 minutes every day. (Read more.)
Laughter is a great cardiovascular workout and can exercise several muscles simultaneously in the body, including the abdomen, back, shoulders, and 15 pairs of facial muscles. It may actually enhance an exercise regime because the body and mind can cope with pain and stressors for longer periods. (Read more.)
Laughter increases our release of endorphins. Endorphins are the ‘happy’ chemicals that stay in the body for up to 24hrs and help us to regulate our emotions and subsequent behaviour. If we laugh more often we feel better more often. (Read more.)
- Immune System.
Studies show that laughter can boost our immune system by up to 40%. (Read more.)
- Stress Reduction.
Laughter relaxes the body and counteracts the stress hormone Cortisol. (Read more.)
- Boost Energy.
The brain requires approximately 25% of the net intake of oxygen. Laughter Yoga increases the oxygen levels in the blood and gives you more energy, which is good for business and creative projects. (Read more.)
- Better Relationships.
Relaxing, connecting and laughing together can improve our relationships. The quality of our lives is dependent upon the quality of the relationships we have. Everybody laughs in the same language all over the world. Laughter connects us all as one. (Read more.)
- Change Perspective.
Laughter can help us to change our outlook on life. With regular practice it can help us to see the lighter side of life and give us a new perspective on things. After all, it’s not possible to be troubled when we laugh. (Read more.)
- The Now.
Laughter quickly brings us into the present moment. When we are actively engaged in deep belly laughter with another, we cannot think about the past or the future. The Now is all that exists when we allow ourselves to let go and authentically laugh.
- Our Natural State.
Laughter feels good for a very good reason. It’s because we should be doing it. Laughter is what life, the universe and everything wants for us, it’s our natural state of being and our emotions are our guides. When we give up resisting ‘what is’ we fall back into love and laughter. If it feels good, do it more and if it doesn’t, don’t. Simples.
As demonstrated by the Laughing Buddha, authentic deep unconditional laughter is the physical manifestation that comes from the highest state of enlightenment. It is the realisation of the point of life itself. The Cosmic Joke. “If love is the answer then laughter is the key.” (Anon)
How is Laughter Yoga done?
Today there are many thousands of people practicing Laughter Yoga in their own unique way around the world, but in general we can say that we combine conscious deep breathing (a form of pranayama) and gentle stretching, with sounds, eye contact and body movement to gently trigger positive bio-chemical responses in the body and receive the many positive health benefits and improved state of emotional well being that result.
The three key core principles of Laughter Yoga are:
Laughter should come from the belly not the chest. It is only when we bring the breath deep into the belly that we can fully expand the lungs, stretch out the diaphragm and start to realise the many benefits.
Exhalation is extended through belly laughter which quickly expels stale air from the bottom of the lungs and replaces it with fresh new oxygen on the next in-breath.
In Laughter Yoga the laughter should be unconditional. We do not need something funny to happen to make us laugh. We simply make a commitment to willingly participate in the practice without the need for any jokes, comedy or humour (which might fall flat or offend someone). With some initial guidance and gentle encouragement authentic laughter naturally and spontaneously arises before quickly becoming contagious in a group environment. It’s a little like Trout Tickling.
Methods used in a typical Laughter Yoga session are designed to cultivate a sense of childlike playfulness which has the profound effect of quickly exposing and dissolving the ego. This can be quite a challenge for some (including me, the first time I did it), but allowing ourselves to experiment, play, have fun and laugh at ourselves for being so silly is a powerful technique designed to help us relax, let go and achieve freedom from the ego. This is Yoga and with practice it gets easier and the effects are both liberating and transformative for many.
Laughter Yoga does involve some physical exercise and, whilst a skilful practitioner can tailor their class to meet the abilities of the group, it is advised that anyone who is in any doubt about their own physical health should consult with their doctor before participating.
Laughter Yoga as a Way of Life
Laughter Yoga has quickly spread around the world helping people to find lasting happiness and improved health in a way that is easy, accessible and fun.
In Yogic philosophy it is the breath that is life itself (Prana) and Laughter Yoga helps us to increase our capacity of both. However, contrary to what many people may believe, the life of a Laughter Yogi is not one of constant laughing 24/7 and it’s, most definitely, not about pretending to be happy or faking laughter. No, Laughter Yoga is about letting go of the ego, letting go of resistance, accepting the truth of what is and consciously choosing the next positive response.
With regular practice Laughter Yoga helps us to gain mastery over our thoughts and actions and increasingly helps us to take full responsibility for our own emotional and physical state.
We change the world by changing ourselves, and by vibrantly embracing life and ensuring that our own light shines as brightly as possible, not only do we personally receive the many benefits but we also help others to do the same if they choose.
We know that happy people are healthier, have better connections and enjoy life more. They are kinder, more caring and compassionate; less stressed and more productive. In learning to take ourselves less seriously, more lightly, we can still take our work seriously with greater results.
Some say that we have a right to be happy, but I believe that we actually have a responsibility to be happy. Happiness is a choice as we become the stories we tell ourselves. World peace can only come by first choosing inner peace and this is central to the teachings and philosophy of Laughter Yoga.
Laughter Yoga is a state of ‘being’. We recognise the interconnectedness of everyone and everything and take full responsibility for our place within it all. As a way of life, Laughter Yoga can be practised anytime, anywhere and you need nothing more than deep breath, a warm smile and a twinkle in your eye.
Laughter Yoga is a gift of love in action.
Where can I try Laughter Yoga?
Local groups can be find at the Find a Laughter Club Facebook page or with a quick google search.
Here at Applied Wellness, our own work takes us up and down the country into businesses and community organisations, care homes and hospices, conferences and festivals.
Following our presentation this year at the Faculty of Public Health Annual Conference we’re planning to roll out a coordinated programme of TLC workshops as part of a local community health initiative which will specifically target anxiety, stress and depression in our home county of Shropshire.
Workshops and classes tend to last between 45-60 minutes in length and cost between £5 and £10 per person (depending upon location and specific requirements).
If you find it difficult to make it to a Laughter Yoga class or event but have access to the internet from your home then the Skype Laughter Club and “skypelaughteruk” groups are a great way to get your regular dose of deep belly laughter. (Simply add either group as contacts on Skype and message the organisers to join in).
Laughter Yoga Training
It is not necessary for you to embark upon any sort of official Laughter Yoga training in order to enjoy and share the benefits of Laughter Yoga. There are many excellent Laughter Yoga Leaders out there who have never done any of the formal training.
However, if you do feel the calling to go deeper and learn even more from others, then your selection of teacher/guru/course will make all the difference to the quality of your experience and what you are able to share with others as a result.
The two day Laughter Yoga Leader Training is an internationally recognised standard and a great place to start. The course will equip you with the knowledge and skills necessary to embed more laughter into your own life and be able to share it with others.
You may also consider other models of laughter training, such as Joe Hoare’s Natural Laughter Skills course, Melanie Bloch’s Inside-Out Laughter, Julie Whitehead’s Stressless Living, Caroline Carr’s Find Your Oomph!, Jo Bluett’s Laughter Cleanse, Sebastian Gendry’s Laughter Wellness training, Caroline Harts’s Joyful Jaunts, Lisa Sturge’s Laughter Skills Training and our very own Therapeutic Laughter Coach (TLC) Training.
The best teachers have a broad range of skills and experience and are constantly growing and developing their work. To get funnelled into one way of thinking and miss the wider landscape would be to limit ourselves and to limit the power and reach of Laughter Yoga. Learn from the best and then do your own thing to the best of your ability. It’s time to shine.
Laughter Yoga is a simple, healthy and positive practice to bring more joy to your life and the lives of many others. Now, more than ever before, the world needs more positive connections, and laughter has the power to connect us all, around the world, in an instant. By changing ourselves we can change the world and live a happier, healthier, more enjoyable life.
With Love and Laughter,