What if you discovered that there was a simple and profound way to enhance your life, that involves something you already know how to do? Would you be open to making this part of your daily practice? Laughter Yoga is a doorway into a world of wonder, a plethora of play, a bounty of breathing and a font of fitness. Have you heard of it? It’s not what you might think. It is not about getting all stretchy on a mat. There are no traditional yoga poses. You need not even have a sense of humor to engage in it. No jokes or comedy is involved.
I initially heard of this modality a few years back when I connected with Jeffrey Briar who is a Laughter Yoga Master Trainer in Laguna Beach, California. I was only mildly interested in learning more, which, in retrospect, surprises me, since family legend has it that I was born soon after my mother had a good laugh while she was pacing the halls of the maternity ward in labor. And to top that off, I have been a clown for a number of years, entertaining children and adults. In the interim, I had attended a few Laughter Yoga events facilitated in the Philadelphia area by Peggy Tileston, Elizabeth Venart and Alexa Fong Drubay. Each of them have their own delightfully unique style. A few months ago, I discovered that Alexa would be offering an opportunity to be trained to do this work/play. She was assisted by another long time Laughter Yoga Leader named Ernie Oktay.
This time I was ready and I enthusiastically took the leap into laughter and signed up to become certified. Over the 16 hour weekend experience, I opened my mind, heart and mouth as I dove in to learning both the art and science. Together with six other participants, I was willing to let my inner child out to play with abandon, without fear of being thought frivolous. Even as playfully disarmed as I can be at times, there are still moments when I wonder if the propriety police are in da’ hood scrutinizing my every move and implying that my behavior is not befitting a person of my age and professional status. One of the most reinforcing aspects of this training is that the NASW (National Association of Social Workers) offered 16 CEUs (Continuing Education Units/Credits) which legitimizes it in the eyes of my professional colleagues.
Laughter Yoga is a practice in which creatively designed laughter exercises are combined with yogic breathing that comes from the diaphragm. It is considered light aerobic exercise that most people can do. Although it can be performed solo, when joining together with others, it establishes a sense of connection. Since eye contact is an essential aspect, it builds trust between participants. Childlike playfulness and a willingness to be lighthearted, are part of the process.
Laughter Yoga was designed by cardiologist Dr. Madan Kataria and his wife Madhuri Kataria, a yoga teacher. Together with three friends, they got together in a park in Mumbai, India in 1995 and since that time, 106 countries have established over 6,000 Laughter Yoga clubs.
Getting All Geeky
*Science shows that the mind and body don’t know the difference between genuine laughter and fake laughter.
*You reap the same benefits either way, as long as you engage the diaphragm.
*To put it to optimal use, it is important to extend your laughter times, ideally laughing for 15-20 minutes a day.
*It has also been found beneficial in helping with addiction recovery.
*Start out by inserting some laughter into your already existing routine.
No Timid Tee Hees Here
Full out belly laughs are an important part of the process as you engage your solar plexus and do diaphragmatic breathing. The physiological and psychological shifts are observable. They include increased blood flow and oxygen, release of pain relieving and pleasure inducing hormones, decrease in cortisol (a stress hormone), as well as reduction in depression and anxiety.
Creating Community in A Safe Space
When people come together in a comfortable environment to do what they are not inclined to do in other public places, the benefits are even greater. Laughter Yoga Clubs that are free, are held throughout the world and are also judgment-free zones.
Why Leave Laughter to Chance?
Most people think they need a reason to be happy and an incentive to laugh when it is the other way around. When we laugh, we increase our joy quotient. What one person finds funny, may be distasteful to someone else. If you commit to a daily Laughter practice, watch your quality of life take leaps and bounds changes.
Ha Ha Healing Breakthroughs
By the time the weekend was over, I had several healing breakthroughs myself. I was diagnosed with asthma at age four which I didn’t allow to limit me, but still felt a need to keep up, to push myself, to go beyond expectations. I have experienced being winded and lacking in stamina when I crossed an invsible line and didn’t listen to my body’s need for rest. In addition, more recently, I had been troubled by plantar fasciitis in my left heel which caused intense pain that had me limping at times. Throughout the training, this ‘light aerobic exercise,’ as it is referred to, had me up on my feet, dancing, walking, and of course, laughing. I was able to keep up and bonus... there was limited awareness of pain in my foot. Some kind of magic occurred.
The aha moments arose when I realized that when sprinkled generously throughout our lives, laughter is a universal language that crosses all societally created and reinforced boundaries. It is a portable life skill that knows no time constraint or ‘use by’ date. It is like the super glue that bonds people together.
In a TED Talk, Dr. Kataria shares his insights about the value of Laughter Yoga.