I don’t know about you but when I first read the phrase “Laughter Yoga” it conjured up images in my mind of monkeys doing downward dogs cackling whilst eating bananas. It was enough to pique my interest and I knew I had to find out what it was.
Soon enough there I was, in a room full of complete strangers, nervously exchanging glances and niceties over a tim tam and a cup of tea, waiting to see what I had signed myself up for. Little did I know just how much of a life-transforming experience this would be.
Laughter Yoga is the brainchild of Dr Madan Kataria and was founded in 1995 in Mumbai, India. Kataria, a medically trained doctor, recognised that the demands of life were creating more stressed out individuals who had lost their child-like spark and ability to be playful. Whilst conducting research on the benefits of laughter, it struck him: If laughter is so good, why are we not actively practising it as part of our daily routine? The very next day he started the very first laughter club with 5 members. Since 1995 it has spread like wild fire and just shy of 10 years there are more than 6000 laughter clubs in over 60 countries. Wow.
Laughter Yoga incorporates 4 main components: laughter exercises, yoga breathing (pranayama), childlike playfulness and relaxation. The laughter exercises are designed to force you to laugh as it eventually will turn into genuine real laughter. Your body doesn’t differentiate between fake laughter and real laughter, Kataria explains, so the premise behind laughter yoga is to fake it til’ you make it as you will get the benefits of laughter either way. By using yoga breathing, it essentially switches on your parasympathetic nervous system, which assists the body in destressing, relaxing and has a calming effect. The laughter exercises help to evoke a sense of acting childlike, as you do things like make a laughter milkshake, ride your laughter motorbike or row your laughter rowboat.
Laughter has the ability to unwind the negative effects of stress. This has been proven through research conducted pertaining to the benefits of laughter. We know that laughter is the best medicine. Laughter has been scientifically proven to elevate your mood, lower your blood pressure, improve blood circulation, increase oxygen levels in the body, boost your immune system and it even burns calories! It’s true. Laughter yoga is like internal jogging. Just 10 minutes a day of real, hearty, belly laughter is said to be the equivalent of 30 minutes on the cross-trainer or rowing machine. Now I don’t know about you, but which one sounds more appealing to you? Sweating it out in the gym for 30 minutes, or getting a bunch of your mates around for a Laughter Yoga session, acting like a child and bursting out some genuine laughter for 10 minutes?
LAUGHTER WITH CHILDREN
Since undergoing the training I have practiced laughter yoga with both groups of adults and children, and have had success and positive feedback from both. On a weekly basis, I lead a group of 120 children aged 5 and 6 years old in laughter yoga, and it has seen a positive impact on their learning. Children have been reported to be more motivated, less stressed and it has been a team building exercise within classrooms.
When I come to work in the morning one of the first questions I am asked by the children I work with is, “Are we doing laughing yoga today?” Doing laughter yoga with children has been such an affirming and positive experience for me as a teacher as I have seen children transform their ability to laugh at themselves and their mistakes, and build resilience which in todays world is sorely lacking amongst our youth.
LAUGHTER WITH ADULTS
When did we as adults lose our ability to laugh at life? Children have a natural default setting for joy. It is reported that children laugh up to 400 times a day, whilst their adult counterparts clock in anywhere between 5 - 15 laughs per day. Shocking. Doing Laughter Yoga with adults can prove to be challenging at first, however, once they see you commit to the laughter exercises and really go for it, layers get stripped off and people start to lose their inhibitions and let their body feel joy. I have presented Laughter Yoga with groups as small as 6 people and as large as 70, in both professional workplaces, amongst my own friends and for special occasions where someone has just wanted to do something at home for their friends. In each of these contexts, I have had similar results.
Attendees have reported a drop in feeling stressed, and a general elated joyful feeling that has the ability to hang around for days afterwards. I had one person come up to me and comment that they felt like they had just injected a boost of self-confidence into their body because if they could participate in a laughter exercise whereby they had to act like a laughing gorilla and pick bugs out of their bosses hair whilst peeling pretend bananas, they could pretty much go out and do anything.
Workplaces have reported back that Laughter Yoga has enhanced relationships, improved productivity and communication within the workplace. Employees feel connected to one another through the shared experience of cultivating joy, and it has the ability to boost morale in the office. Studies conducted in India and the USA showed that after just three weeks of laughter sessions in the workplace, staff reported a substantial stress reduction and an increase in productivity and the ability of staff performance at work. It can be a life-transforming experience!
But here’s the beauty of laughter yoga. You don’t need to be in a group to practise it and reap the benefits. You can fly solo, baby! The next time you feel stressed out and like you’re ready to explode, throw your head back and force out a big bout of belly laughter. Heck, look at yourself in the mirror and laugh it out. It’s easy. Start with a big smile, force breath out of your mouth and feel the vibration inside you. It might feel silly at first, but your brain is going to start sending signals to your body that you’re happy, and soon enough you will be.
To learn more about Laughter Yoga or to find a laughter club near you go to www.laughteryoga.org
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