It is a revolutionary way of dealing with stress — simple and practical, yet at the same time so deep that it can bring a lot of relief and joy as we incorporate this into our lives. In a group, and at the rhythm of HO HO HA HA HA, clapping and maintaining eye contact with childlike playfulness, Laughter Yoga gives us the opportunity to reencounter ourselves with joy and laughter. It offers the chance to move out of the comfort zone, waking up our internal creativity and playfulness.
Dr. Madan Kataria, a family physician, started Laughter Yoga clubs with a group of people in Mumbai India in 1995. He was very interested in the impact of laughter on health based on the work of Dr. Lee Berk and also the work of Norman Cousins in the book, Anatomy of an Illness. So he asked the participants to simulate laughter for no reason, which lead to genuine laughter becoming contagious, and it went on for more than 10 minutesamong the group. Dr Kataria integrated unique exercises with breathing exercises from yoga, making this a powerful combination for joy, stress relief and more. After this, more and more people started to join the Laughter Yoga clubs and soon this small group became an international, growing movement with more than 6000 Laughter Yoga clubs in different countries around the world.
Now what is exactly Laughter Yoga? Laughter Yoga combines unconditional laughter with Yogic Breathing (Pranayama). Anyone can laugh for no reason, without the need of humor, jokes or comedy. We can start with simulated laughter as a body exercise in a group; making eye contact and using childlike playfulness. It soon turns into real and contagious laughter. The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.
Did you know that kids laugh between 300 and 400 times a day? Surprised? Well let me tell you that adults laugh just 14 to 16 times a day!! Children don’t necessarily laugh because they are happy they laugh because they are joyful, which is their true nature.
If you think about this for a moment how many times you have seen your kids, grandchildren or nieces and nephews play and laugh for no reason. This is the essence of Laughter Yoga. We can all laugh for no reason and it is actually quite easy. Laughter Yoga gives us the opportunity to remember our true joyful self by a series of uniquely designed exercises combined with deep breathing. It is important to note however, there is a difference between being happy and being joyful. Happiness can be conditioned to something external. For example, “When I get that car I will be happy,” or “When I finish this, I will be happy,” or “When I get married, I will be happy.” We condition our happiness to “something” or “someone” out there. Joy on the other hand comes from experiencing oneself in the present moment (the here and now), making full contact with sensations in our bodies that does not involve rationalizing.
What are the benefits of incorporating laughter in to my life? Studies have shown that more than 70% of doctors visits and prescriptions are linked to health issues related with stress. When you incorporate laughter in to your daily life, you open up to the many benefits it offers.
- Stabilizes blood pressure
- Massages the vital organs
- Tones the abdominal muscles
- Stimulates blood circulation
- Increases oxygenated blood
- Boosts immunity
- Lowers stress hormones
- Relaxes your muscles
- Prevents heart disease
- Adds joy and zest to life
- Eases anxiety and fear
- Enhances resilience
- Strengthens relationships
- Enhances teamwork
- Helps defuse conflict
- Promotes group bonding and much more!
Humor and laughter in our life has been a subject of study thorough the years. In 1979 Norman Cousins was diagnosed with a form of arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis. His struggle with this illness is detailed in the book Anatomy of an Illness. Doctors told him that he had little chance of surviving, so he developed a recovery program incorporating mega doses of Vitamin C, along with a positive attitude, love, faith, hope, and laughter induced by Marx brother’s films.
“I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep,” he reported. “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.” –Norman Cousins
Even history reminds us of the importance of laughter in health:
“A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”
~ Proverbs 17:22
“Let the surgeon take care to regulate the whole regimen of the patient’s life for joy and happiness, allowing his relatives and special friends to cheer him, and by having someone tell him jokes.”
~ Fourteenth century French surgeon Henri de Mondeville
Dr William Fry M. D., psychiatrist and professor emeritus from the Stanford University School of Medicine and pioneer in the field of humor research, proved that jubilous laughter provides and excellent physical workout diminishing the risk of suffering respiratory infections and helping the body to produce endorphins.
“Humor opposes directly those emotions which have been specifically recorded as being associated with precipitation of heart attack. These emotions are fear and rage. Rage is impossible when mirth prevails.”
Dr Lee Berk, studied the physical impact of mirthful laughter at a physiological level. Two groups that had antecedents of having heart attack. One group was treated with conventional medicine and the other group was asked to observe funny videos for 30 minutes daily. After a year he found out that the humor group had fewer arrhythmias, lower high blood pressure and lower stress hormones and required fewer doses of medication. The most interesting result was that the humor group had 20% reoccurrence of heart attacks while the other group had 50 % reoccurrence of heart attacks.
Patch Adams, medical doctor, clown, social activist and subject of the film Patch Adams, is founder and director of the Gesundheit! Institute, a holistic medical community based on the idea that we cannot separate the health of the individual from the health of the community and of society. Expanding “clown diplomacy” by means of organized trips of non-professional clowns to refuge camps, shelters, checkpoints and other places where systemic violence has crushed the human spirit.
Many Health facility centers have noticed the impact of laughter in health recovery and better quality of life and it is becoming very popular in hospitals as well around the world due to the huge benefits in stress reduction and support of the immune system as well as the liberation of endorphins (natural anesthetics of our body).
Here at Sanoviv it is a joy to share this practice with our guests and staff members. Laughter Yoga is practiced at least two times per week in the mornings to start the day in a more positive, peaceful and balanced manner. If you know about a laughter yoga club in your community or near the area where you live, I invite you to live the experience and give yourself the gift of laughing out loud and receive the benefits of it.