Laughter Yoga combines laughter, breathing, movement, and positive affirmations to release stress, dissolve negative emotions, and boost well-being.
What do hot soup, cellphones, milkshakes, and melting spaghetti have in common? They are all exercises used in laughter yoga, a process that combines laughter, yogic breathing, movement, and positive affirmations to release stress, dissolve negative emotions, and boost well-being.
The history of laughter yoga
Laughter yoga was founded by Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai, India, whose research into the health-promoting benefits of laughter revealed that the body cannot distinguish between real and simulated laughter.
Starting with just five people at the first laughter club in 1995, laughter yoga is now practised in 60 countries and has grown into a global community of like-minded people seeking to create joy, peace, and health in their lives. There are even plans to create a dedicated International Laughter Yoga University near Bangalore.
Why we should all be laughing
Stressed, tired, overwhelmed, or under the weather? Laughter yoga may be just the medicine you need.
Laughter for everyone
The beauty of laughter yoga is that it appeals to all ages, can be practised almost anywhere, and requires no special equipment or clothing—simply a willingness to laugh and let go. For instance, laughter practitioner Suzanne Naylor has worked in a retirement home where the eldest participant was 100 years old.
A complementary therapy
“The laughter yoga process enables people to laugh unconditionally for 15 to 30 minutes nonstop and to achieve physiological changes in the body,” says Merv Neal, CEO of Laughter Yoga Australia.
Years ago, Neal became seriously ill—partly due to business-induced stress and unhealthy coping strategies. When told he had a week to live, he responded by laughing hysterically. “I realize now that it was my body/mind taking over and fixing my immune system,” he explains.
Now, Neal is known as the Workplace Well-being Wizard and “plays” in the corporate business sector by promoting laughter and wellness in workplaces. “Laughter doesn’t solve problems,” he says, “but it does dissolve them down to a level where we can deal with them.”
Naylor, like Neal, came to laughter yoga through her own personal journey. While recovering from breast cancer and caring for elderly in-laws with dementia, she was looking for a way to lessen her stress levels and boost her immunity.
“Any challenge, personal or family, you’ve got to find a way to relieve it,” she explains. “One person who came to my community laughter group told me, ‘I was about to commit suicide before I came to today’s session, but now I’m laughing.’ Laughter yoga is a powerful complementary therapy with many positive benefits for your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being.”
Research on laughter
Research has demonstrated laughter can lower stress hormones and increase feel-good endorphins, reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and boost mood.
Thirty-eight Iranian male nursing students participated in eight one-hour laughter yoga sessions. Researchers found these sessions had a positive effect on students’ general health. Students experienced better sleep, suffered less depression and anxiety, and enjoyed improved social functioning.
Strengthen trunk muscles
A 2014 German study found that laughter yoga positively activates the trunk muscles. In fact, internal oblique muscles were activated more by laughter yoga than by crunch and back lifting exercises!
A small group of patients awaiting organ transplants were schooled in the art of laughter yoga. This 2012 study suggested that laughter yoga may improve heart rate variability and lessen long-term anxiety, although due to the small sample size, further research is required.
A typical laughter yoga class
Naylor describes a typical group session as starting with chants such as “Very good, very good, yaaah!” and “Ho, ho, ha, ha, ha!” which are combined with clapping and movement to build positive energy and stimulate diaphragmatic breathing.
The warm-up chants may be followed by talking gibberish, making fish lips, and doing a big yawn to help release inhibitions and tap into childlike playfulness and spontaneity. “Then we go round, share our name, and laugh. It’s important to create a safe environment where we can make eye contact and conne