Yoga: Laughing Your Way To Good Health!
By Teenaz Javat
Fourteen years ago a young doctor in Mumbai, India, sat down to write an article on the healing qualities of laughter. His topic was to investigate the benefits of laughter on the human body and mind. Over the course of his research, Dr. Madan Kataria stumbled upon Norman Cousins' book Anatomy of an Illness and extensive research on laughter therapy done by Dr. Lee Berk of Loma Linda University, California. Berk’s study, in particular, interested Kataria, as it revealed a basic scientific fact that laughter leads to the release of endorphins. These natural compounds are known to decrease stress hormones and improve our immune system, leading to good health.
What Kataria stumbled upon in the spring of 1995 has led to the creation of 6,000 laughter yoga clubs operating in approximately 60 countries world-wide. Along with his wife Madhuri, a trained yoga instructor, Kataria has stirred up a successful cocktail of laughter and yoga.
The fundamentals of Laughter Yoga are simple. It is basically a combination of laughter and breathing exercises based on Yoga. Breathing through the nose which is the hallmark of yoga, increases the supply of oxygen in the body thereby boosting the immune system
The hypothesis, on which laughter yoga works is that laughter, whether it is real or faked, is good for the body. The human body does not distinguish between real and fake laughter. Fake laughter turns into real laughter when practiced as a group.
According to Toronto’s Lynn Himmelmann who operates Lynn’s Lively Laughter Yoga Club, “Laughter yoga is basically a series of breathing and movement exercises designed to teach the body to laugh without depending on jokes and humour. We laugh for no reason.”
As a yoga instructor, singer, musician and nutritionist, Himmelmann soon realized how wonderfully laughter could be used to de-stress the human body. Aside from simply feeling good, a hearty belly laugh engages several muscles in our body and turns into a pretty good work out.
“It is here that the laughter component meets with yoga. Yoga engages several muscles and internal organs and Pranayam (breath control) is used to supplement laughter in a typical session,” she adds.
A normal gathering at a laughter yoga club would involve each person in the group saying their name followed by a hearty laugh, with everyone present joining in.
In this way a relatively shy group of individuals are transformed into a laughing happy bunch that have spent the past one-hour laughing together without any reason and are feeling good about it. Himmelmann feels that people of any age can enjoy this form of exercise. “I get invited to several senior residences where this exercise is well received. There are seniors who are on walkers and have limited mobility, but once the laughter begins, everyone around catches the bug. I tone down the physical movements to suit their needs and abilities, as a regular session can be quite intensive.” Laughing in general releases endorphins in the body which act as natural painkillers, so the overall pain level is naturally decreased. “In addition to that it alleviates the loneliness, sadness and separation they face on an emotional level too. Laughter yoga interrupts their lonely thoughts and brings them back to the present as it is proved that all healing can truly take place in the present,” she adds.
For Wendy Woods another certified laughter yoga instructor who conducts the Mid-town Toronto laughter yoga club, “Toronto is just warming up to this idea. Anyone who can laugh can participate in laughter yoga. During the laughter sessions I conduct lots of different laughter yoga activities but the same fundaments apply, you fake it till you make it. “Laughter is so infectious that I have not found a single sad face at the end of any session so far.”
Woods is positive that the power of laughter is spreading and as a therapeutic exercise it does lead to reduced level of stress and boost energy levels.