The concept of laughter yoga first originated in India during the mid-1990s. Considered a fairly modern exercise, it combines simulated laughter exercises with gentle breathing techniques. Advocates believe that voluntary laughter provides similar benefits to spontaneous laughter.
More contagious than a sneeze or a cough, laughter can relax the entire body. The combination of this with yoga-style breathing exercises has been proven to not only provide instantaneous happiness, but also a number of psychological and physiological health benefits.
The benefits of laughter yoga
• Emotional and mental benefits: Laughing stimulates the release of endorphins (happy hormones) which give you feeling of overall wellbeing, increased serotonin (the body’s natural antidepressant), and a strengthened immune system. Laughing with others also creates a sense of community and improves social connections.
• The body: Yogic breathing brings more oxygen into the body resulting in improved blood-oxygen levels which means that more oxygen is carried to the brain. When your brain has more oxygen, your whole body functions better; you might notice that you feel more on the ball, more energetic and even have better balance and co-ordination!
• Stress and the immune system: Laughter provides a number of physiological benefits, such as lowered levels of cortisol and epinephrine (stress hormones). Lower levels of stress hormones have been proven to strengthen the immune system as it means that the body’s defences against colds and other infections are strengthened.
• Pain tolerance: Frequent laughter can increase the body’s pain threshold, allowing chronic pain sufferers a to attain a higher level of comfort, with less need for medications and pain killers.
• At work: Laughter Yoga can be an effective activity to bring teams together and strengthen relationships whilst turning an office environment into a more positive environment. Laughter and happiness are not only stress-relievers but are also proven to make employees more productive and creative.
• To have fun! Reconnect with your inner child and enjoy the lighter side of life!
So, how do you practice laughing yoga?
Classes usually start with some socialising and the practice leader will talk to the group about the benefits of laughter. Then, the group will warm up with stretching and breathing exercises.
In this type of yoga, laughs come from the diaphragm – creating ‘belly laughs’ – the type of laugh that provides the most benefits.
All laughter yoga sessions are led differently but generally there are four simple steps:
1. Clapping and chanting
2. Laughing yoga breathing
3. Childlike playfulness
4. Laughing yoga exercises
Each step consists of unique aspects. For example, during ‘childlike playfulness’, participants lift their arms above their head, which helps lift their mood. It is also proven to help trigger happy memories and thoughts.