History Of Laughter Yoga
Laughter yoga is a relatively new style of yoga that began on the old concept “Laughter is the best medicine.” In 1995, Indian Doctor Madan Kataria was writing on this topic of laughter for a health journal. In his research, he found many modern studies that backed up the claim that laughing can be beneficial to one’s health. Dr. Kataria was especially interested in Norman Cousins‘ book Anatomy of an Illness as well as Dr. Lee Berk’s research. Soon, Dr. Kataria took it upon himself to do his own testing on the impact of laughter.
Later that month, he collected five people (including himself) in a park in Mumbai, in order to start a “Laughter Club.” The club had a domino effect on bystanders, and soon there were around 50 people participating. The club started to fizzle after about two weeks, and nasty jokes started to come into the repertoire. Rather than giving up on his idea, Dr. Kataria begged the club members to let him quickly find a solution that could maintain the club’s integrity. He needed to find a breakthrough.
After analyzing his research, Dr. Kataria realized that the human body does not know the difference between fake and real laughter and that both resulted in the same chemical release. The next day, he asked the group to simply just laugh with him for a minute, and despite the strangeness of the request, the forced laughter resulted in almost ten minutes of real laughter. This was the true birth of Laughter Yoga.
Dr. Kataria then developed exercises to promote laughter, especially recalling his earlier experiences in acting. A yoga practitioner, Dr. Kataria, along with his wife and fellow yoga student, realized that laughter and pranayama shared elements and that yogic aspects could be incorporated into the laughter practice to increase results.
Laughter groups and laughter yoga classes occur all over the world today. In under two decades, the world is laughing with, not at, this style of yoga that promotes physical and mental well-being with child-like play and laughter.
Philosophy Of Laughter Yoga
One of the main philosophies of Laughter Yoga is that laughter is not a direct result of a sense of humor. Laughter can actually be a learned behavior, and it can completely transform body chemistry. Laughter can be learnt and programmed into the body, to bring about a complete transformation. Research has proved that just 10-20 minutes of fake or real laughter has a profound benefit on the human body.
Laughter yoga teaches its students to learn to laugh even if something is not funny, especially because sometimes, humor is not universal. Different people have different senses of humors, whether it is a matter or taste, culture, or other differentiating factors. Age also strips people of the ability to generate natural laughter, as children do not need the same time of stimulus to laugh as adults do. In fact, adults often mask the natural laughter that children have, which ends up becoming detrimental to health and well-being. Laughter Yoga seeks to restore laughter, even without the stimulus of humor. Basically, this yoga depends on its concept of “Unconditional Laughter,” which means that there doesn’t need to be a reason to laugh. Laughter Yoga is a unique concept of Unconditional Laughter, according to this, anyone can laugh for no particular reason. Instead of initiating laughter as a result of stimuli (jokes, comedy, etc.), laughter becomes an exercise. The body cannot tell whether the laughter is forced or genuine, and eventually, the session progresses and the laughter all becomes real. Laughter Yoga has a simple goal: to bring wonderful things to the world through laughter.
Practice Of Laughter Yoga
A Laughter Yoga class doesn’t just “lighten the mood,” it has many health benefits. Laughter Yoga increases the flow of oxygen to the body and helps build immunity. Energy levels increase, and this helps promote increased metabolic rates.
Laughter Yoga, despite the playful result, actually has a very specific class set-up. There are four steps to a Laughter yoga class: clapping and warm-up, deep breathing interspersed with laughter, childlike playfulness, and laughter exercises. There are three types of laughter exercises:
- Yoga-based- these exercises are, as the name suggests, based on yoga poses. These asanas actually open the muscles that assist in laughter
- Playful Exercises- These exercises help to eliminate the students’ inhibition. They also aid in the conversion from induced laughter to genuine laughter. Role-playing acting exercises are not uncommon as playful exercises. For example, Milkshake Laughter entails pouring imaginary milk into imaginary cups and drinking them with laughter
- Value-Based Laughter Exercises–these exercises are intended to program the human body to generate positive feelings while making specific gestures. Thus, laughter coordinates with different emotions and actions
Sometimes, a class also includes a more physical element than the four steps of Laughter Yoga class prescribes. This is especially common in Laughter groups for seniors. The exercises help to increase mobility in ways that seniors don’t often experience (thus causing bodily problems). Some groups also perform the Laughter exercises in more energetic ways (such as power yoga) in order to provide an invigorating experience.
Laughter Meditation sometimes follows Laughter exercises. Laughter meditation, as opposed to many quiet forms of meditation, entails a constant and steady stream of laughter. In similarity to other forms of meditation, Laughter meditation is an involved process that can release many emotions. Laughter starts gradually with one or few students until other members of the class follow suit. Eventually, people come out of laughter and into silence.
After Laughter Yoga stimulates the students, grounding exercises help relax and normalize the students’ blood pressure, mood, and muscles. This phase is where the real benefits of Laughter Yoga are truly visible. Grounding exercises also ready students to go back to their routines, hopefully leaving in good spirits with healthy bodies and attitudes.
To become a Laughter Group leader, students must train through Dr. Kataria’s Laughter Yoga Institute. Those students who take Laughter Yoga teacher trainings will be able to train their own students to be Laughter Group leaders. Dr. Kataria currently leads retreats, workshops, and trainings all over the world.
By: Alex Zaglin