Of all the kinds of yoga to be developed in recent years, Laughter Yoga seems to be a very effective way of uplifting the spirit and clearing the mind and heart. Human beings were meant to laugh. It is one of nature’s ways to eliminate stress from our lives and to help us not to take ourselves and circumstances so seriously. It is a gentle exercise which has an effect on the lungs and heart, and even affects us on a cellular level. An Indian yoga practitioner named, Dr Madan Kataria started the movement when he wrote a paper entitled ‘Laughter is the best medicine’. He intended a movement that would be non-religious, non-sectarian and a-political. Since its inception in 1995, Laughter yoga has been practiced all over India and also in the United States and Europe, incorporating breathing, yoga asana, and of course, a good twenty-minute giggle. The positive affects of the laugh were first proposed in the 1950′s by L.Ron Hubbard and prior to this date, some yogis practiced laughing meditation which mimics some of the same techniques of Laughter yoga, however, the date the laughter was first incorporated into yoga teachings is uncertain.
For many of us, finding something to laugh about is very difficult. Perhaps that is why going to a class with the intention of laughing is a good idea. Have you ever been in a dour and heavy mood only to stumble across someone laughing big, uproarious, belly laughter, and found yourself laughing too? Even if you did not laugh as heartily as the person struck by the giggles, perhaps you found the corners of your mouth twitching into a smile. The fact is, laughter is contagious. If we are surrounded with people who are laughing, it becomes very difficult not to be affected by that energy. Many Laughter yoga sessions start with “fake” guffaw inducing techniques which mimic the sounds of regular chuckling to start to shake us out of our rigid patterns of seriousness. Forced lauging eventually makes way for real laughter and the benefits of real laughter are innumerable. Some of the benefits of at least twenty minutes of laughing daily are as follows:
Laughter makes us smarter, stimulates both the right and left sides of the brain causing in increase in communication between the two halves. The reduction in stress also allows us to concentrate better and be more alert.
Laughing decreases muscle tension – Those who laugh have less muscle tension and psychological stress.
Laughter protects the heart – An active sense of humor and good boughts of laugh help protect you against heart attack. According to a study at the Maryland Medical Center, people with heart disease are 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.
Laughter is an all-body workout. It causes your diaphragm, abdominal, respiratory, facial, leg, and back muscles to engage. It massages abdominal organs, tones intestinal functioning, and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. Not only does laughter give your midsection a workout, it can benefit digestion and absorption functioning as well. It is thought that a good bought of laughter burns as many calories as several minutes on the rowing machine or the exercise bike.
Blood pressure is lowered – those who laugh consistently, have a lower standing blood pressure rate than the average person. With a good laugh, initially the heart rate rises, but then decreases again to below the normal level. Breathing is deeper during laughter which causes oxygen rich blood to circulate throughout the body, enhancing cellular respiration and functioning.
A good guffaw changes our hormones – those who laugh regularly have a decreased amount of stress hormones like adrenaline in the blood and in increase in infection fighting antibodies. Laughter also increases our attentiveness, heart rate and pulse.
There are huge emotional benefits – it helps us to solve problems creatively, easing the strain from our relationships, working environments and circumstances. By trying to find humor in every situation, we help lessen frustration for ourselves and everyone around us. When we are laughing, we make more eye contact, smile at others and generally attempt to connect with others more. Our emotional and psychological walls start to come down.
If we have a hard time laughing we can start to induce laughter by practicing laughing yoga. We can also try to replace difficult mental images with hilarious ones. The ‘laughter’ part of the brain is one of the first sections to be developed when our nervous systems are maturing from infancy. It is only through societal conditioning that we have lost our ability to find the lighter side of life. Infants begin to smile in the first several months of life. It is our natural state of being. If we cannot attend a laughing yoga class, we can sit in meditation and mimic the sounds of laughter, making them as loud and deep as possible. Start by closing your eyes and thinking of a time when laughter came easily to you. Then make sounds such as “HA HA HA, HO HO HO, HEE HEE HEE.” Surely, when you begin you will feel quite idiotic, but eventually your laughter will become real. If you practice this exercise with other people, you can usually transition from fake laughter to real laughing more quickly. We can also spend time with funny people, see funny movies, and read funny books. If you her laughter in a public place, move toward it and try to take part in it if possible. You can count your blessings also. Make a list. This will get your head out of the rigid, poor me mentality and make you more prime for a good bout of laughter. Your mental, emotional and physical body will benefit from a good laugh. As Woody Alan said, “I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose.” That seems a small price to pay for better physical and mental well-being.