What is Laughter Yoga and how can this keep us Healthy?
Laughter Yoga was co-founded in 1995 by a medical doctor from India, Madan Kataria, and his wife Madhuri Kataria, both also active Yoga practitioners. In his extensive research Dr Kataria discovered many scientific studies that described the health benefits of Laughter on the human body and mind. In particular he was impressed by the writings of Norman Cousins, in his book Anatomy of an Illness. Cousins had contracted a potentially fatal disease, and during his recovery he focused on exposing himself to as much laughter and humour as he could. He found that ten minutes of hearty laughter, would give him two hours of pain-free sleep.
There were many other medical doctors that influenced the beginnings of Laughter yoga. These include the work of Dr. William Fry, Dr. Lee Berk and the well-known Dr. Hunter (Patch) Adams. All these individuals relied on humour to create and/ or study the effects of laughter on our health.
When we laugh the diaphragm becomes a powerful pump for our lymphatic circulation by improving lymphatic flow. Increased lymphatic flow means more lymph is passing through lymph nodes, which results in more lymphocytes being produced. This contributes to improved immunity and resistance to infections.
Laughter Yoga incorporates yogic breathing (Pranayama) into laughter exercises. It is not necessary to have any yoga experience to begin Laughter yoga. The breathing and laughter exercises stimulate the movement of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles that help activate the parasympathetic nervous system. This induces a calming response.
Laughter Yoga can improve our overall health, while helping us to release unwanted thoughts and emotions. It helps us to develop an attitude of forgiveness, generosity and compassion, while actively seeking the happiness of others.
Children engage in laughter so much more than adults. We need to regain this child-like playfulness. Anyone can develop the ability to laugh joyfully once again. Even when we don’t feel like laughing, or we don’t think we have a sense of humour, acting “as if” we are happy, will induce positive changes in both the body and mind. While the simple repetitive laughter exercises within a session will assist the brain to develop new neuronal connections, and “happy” neuropeptides.
In a laughter yoga session, we do not engage in telling jokes (this is conditional laughter). At the end of the Laughter group exercises, we finish the session with “laughter meditation”. This allows the free laughter to flow from within us. Even if we don’t feel like laughing, just listening to others can trigger laughter within us. After all laughter is contagious. Many participants comment that they haven’t laughed like that since they were a child.
Joyfulness is the basis of Laughter Yoga. Joyfulness is an emotion that can be triggered at will by indulging in any joyful activity such as laughing, playing, dancing or singing. Laughter puts us intensely in the moment. The ability to live life fully and experience the “now” is so important, because it is only in the “now” that we can experience joy.
Laughter Yoga classes are held regularly in Hawkes Bay.