Laughter Yoga

What is Laughter Yoga?

Laughter Yoga combines unconditional laughter with Yogic Breathing (Pranayama). This effective blend results in multiple health benefits, primarily increasing the supply of oxygen and boosting the immune system. The goal of Laughter Yoga is to bring good health, joy and world peace through Laughter. Laughter is universal with no language and cultural barriers. It energizes and recharges the metabolism, making one feel fresh and energetic.

Laughter Yoga is a breakthrough laughter delivery system that can enable a person to laugh continuously for 15 to 20 minutes with short breaks of Yogic Breathing. It is a complete well-being workout. Laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group; with eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into real and contagious laughter. Anyone can laugh for no reason naturally, without relying on humor, jokes or comedy. The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.

Laughter Yoga is a brainchild of Dr. Madan Kataria, a Physician from Mumbai, India, who launched the first Laughter Club at a Park on March 13, 1995. Today, it has become a worldwide phenomenon with more than 6000 Social Laughter Clubs in about 60 countries. This innovative concept has a worldwide following, and has been featured by many popular publications like TIME Magazine, National Geographic, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Daily Telegraph (UK) among others. Laughter Clubs have appeared on popular Television: Oprah Winfrey Show, BBC, CNN, ZDF (Germany) NHK (Japan), ABC News (USA) and others around the world.

What are the benefits of Laughter Yoga?

It is a life changing experience making participants happy, healthy and energized - effecting a transformation in their lives. Participants of Laughter Yoga report significant general health improvements. Many have felt a reduction in the frequency of respiratory infections like common cold and flu, and many others reported overcoming depression, relief/cure from chronic medical problems. The Laughter Yoga session, results in positive energy that makes it easy to cope with stress of daily life and saves anybody from depression. In fact, the impact of laughter is so profound that many practitioners no longer need anti-depressants. The sustained positive emotions keep them coming back to Laughter Yoga for more.

Clinical research on Laughter Yoga methods, conducted at the University of Graz in Austria; Bangalore, India; and in the United States has proved that Laughter lowers the level of stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, etc) in the blood. It fosters a positive and hopeful attitude. It is less likely for a person to succumb to stress and feelings of depression and helplessness, if one is able to laugh away the troubles.

Laughter Yoga is an effective tool to release the negative emotions and to safely dissipate feelings of anger or frustration.

Laughter Yoga is being practiced by seniors in many aged care facilities worldwide. There is a distinct rise in life expectancy with improvement in health care in a very short span of practice. Since the cognitive abilities in seniors are compromised due to senile dementia and in some cases due to Alzheimer’s Disease, they find it difficult to comprehend humor. Therefore, Laughter Yoga which does not depend on humor for laughter, is the ideal form of exercise routine that can help them to get complete health benefits of laughter. The Physical Exercises chosen may promote mobility through Stretching, ease Cervical Spondylosis, Neck Stiffness and Frozen Shoulder.

Laughter Yoga has made a major difference in the lives of many people with physical and mental disabilities. The introduction of Laughter Yoga for the mentally and the physically challenged children has revealed a marked improvement in their motor and expressive skills besides control of hyper-activeness. Laughter Yoga helps them cope with their disabilities and generate a more positive attitude, that helps them to enhance their well-being.

Laughter Yoga has been introduced in many schools and colleges. This routine has shown that the mood and atmosphere gets energized. Teachers and students are happier together, with a more positive outlook, and improves communication, discipline and attendance. Academic results have also shown improvement. In prisons, there have been positive changes in prisoner attitude, better prisoner-staff relations and reduced violence. In the business world, It is a powerful force for improving staff performance, substantial stress reduction and enhanced productivity at the workplace.

What is Laughter Yoga Club?

Laughter Yoga Clubs are Social Clubs, free for all. There is no membership fee and no fuss. Initially Laughing alone may seem awkward, but joining a Laughter Club makes it easy. It provides a platform which helps to break psychological barriers and shed all inhibitions. One can actually feel ‘fake’ Laughter turn into ‘real’ and contagious laughter. These Clubs are run by volunteers trained as Laughter Yoga Teachers and Laughter Yoga Leaders. Laughter Clubs are non-political, non-religious and non-profit, and run directly by Laughter Clubs International. Laughter Yoga Clubs are fast growing into a worldwide community of like-minded people who believe in unconditional Love, Laughter and Fellowship.

What to expect in a Laughter Yoga session?

During most Laughter Yoga Exercises, group members keep moving, and establish eye contact with others in the group. Most Laughter Sessions focus on enjoyment, rather than force, when doing Laughter Exercises. The Laughter Session strives to cultivate childlike playfulness during Laughter Yoga Exercises.

A typical Laughter Yoga session has following major steps:

  • Clapping and Warming-Up Exercises
  • Deep Breathing Exercises
  • Laughter Exercises
  • Guided Relaxation, also called “Yoga Nidra”, or “Yogic Sleep”

Some more details are:

  • Hands are clapped parallel to each other for full finger-to-finger and palm-to-palm contact, thus stimulating Acupressure points in our hands to increase energy levels.
  • Rhythm is added to the clapping, to further increase energy levels and group synchronicity, often a 1-2 or a 1-2-3 rhythm.
  • Movement is then added. There are many variations, but most move hands up and down and swing from side to side, with corresponding movements of the hands and feet.
  • A simple chant is added to the clapping, normally HO, HO, HA-HA-HA. These are heavy exhalations that come from the belly, to stimulate diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Laughter Exercises are interspersed with Deep Breathing Exercises to help flush the lungs, and also bring physical and mental relaxation.
  • A happy chant to use after a Laughter Exercise: VERY GOOD (Clap Forward), VERY GOOD (Clap Forward), YAAAAAAY (Swinging arms up into a Y shape with thumbs up in childish exuberance and exhilaration).
  • Humming: With eyes closed, take a long breath in and hum it out, actually saying the word "Hummm..." with upper and lower lips just touching each other. Vibrations are felt throughout the facial muscles, sinuses and, eventually in the head. Humming has a powerful impact on the Autonomic Nervous System, and can activate the parasympathetic system that is responsible for Relaxation.
  • Guided Relaxation: After Laughter, energy levels can be too high to return directly to normal. To reduce these levels the leader may talk the group through Guided Relaxation, also called “Yoga Nidra”, or “Yogic Sleep”. This brings immense Relaxation by bringing complete awareness to different parts of the body as guided by the Laughter Leader.

Why Laughter Yoga works?

By now you must be curious and eager to find out, what is the method behind this madness and why this silly looking thing really works. So quench your thirst for knowledge with the basis and fundamentals of Laughter Yoga below:

More Oxygen from Laughter and Yogic Breathing
During inhalation, we breathe in 500 to 700 ml of air and almost the same amount is exhaled. This is called a Tidal Volume. But there is a huge volume of residual air in our lungs that amounts to almost 2500 to 2800 ml. This residual air is mostly stale and has more carbon dioxide. Laughter Yoga, cleans this stale air and hence helping body to get rid of residual toxins by improving circulation of air.

Dr. Otto Warburg, a Nobel Laureate, said that one of the basic reasons for falling sick is the lack of oxygen in the body cells. This is because we don't breathe correctly. Due to Stress and negative mental states, our breathing becomes shallow and irregular. This leads to lack of oxygen and accumulation of carbon dioxide in our blood which further causes anxiety, stress arousal and emotional reactions.

Yoga emphasizes that the secret of good health lies in longer exhalation. Exhalation should be longer than inhalation thereby ridding some of the residual air from the lungs and allowing more fresh air and oxygen for the next breathing cycle. This can be done effectively by contracting the abdominal muscles and pushing the diaphragm outwards. Combining this with Laughter, it becomes the easiest and the best possible way to regularize breathing, and enhancing the supply of oxygen.

Laughter Programmed into Body
Do you know that we can actually learn to Laugh? Our Body and Mind can be trained to laugh at will. It is like learning to ride a bicycle. Once you learn, you never forget it, just as any skill. Repetition is the mother of learning any skill. The repetition of any bodily behavior over a period of time leads to the generation of a corresponding emotion in the Mind. The brain develops new neuronal circuits for a particular body-mind activity that is repeated again and again.

According to the principles of Neuro-Linguistic association and scientific research, there is very little difference between thinking about doing something and actually doing it. Thoughts in the mind, whether real or imaginary, produce similar physiological changes in the body. When a particular set of experiences are repeated over and over, the body develops a fast “Knee Jerk” reaction that is triggered without involving thinking and the rational brain. This is called “Conditioning”.

The brain can be cheated by such conditioned reflexes. Before the conscious brain can rationalize and think, the Body starts reacting. In everyday life, this conditioning happens during both positive and negative experiences. Repetitive experience of any kind can lead to automatic conditioned response. By repeating the Laughter Exercises, the brain develops new neuronal connections to produce happy neuropeptides and hormones in the body that can be triggered by the repetition of this physical action. In Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) language eliciting such a bodily reaction is called an “Anchor”. By performing a joyful anchor action with the body, the mind can experience the emotions of joy, complete with the chemical reactions it triggers.

Body-to-Mind Model
If we notice, children are absolutely natural when they laugh. Their laughter is not dependent on any external stimulus like jokes, comedy or humor. Adults, on the other hand, learn the art of suppressing emotions for fear of being ridiculed or facing a conflict, which proves to be detrimental in the pursuit of physical and mental well being.

Children laugh 300 to 400 times in a day while grown-ups laugh only 10 to 15 times. It is because adults use their brain to first comprehend humor and then laugh. This is called the Mind-to-Body Model or the Humor Model. It relies on the ability to understand what's funny and amusing. The only hitch in this model is - it does not guarantee how much a person will laugh. It is dependent on conditions like a sense of humor, the state of the mind and the quality of the external stimuli.

The other model is the “Childlike Model” or the "Body-to-Mind Model". Observe children - they laugh the most while playing. Their laughter comes straight from the body and does not make use of any intellectual capacity of the brain. This clearly indicates that the source of laughter is within the body. One can use it whenever necessary by moving the body at will.

Theory of Motion Creates Emotion
There is a well-established link between the body and the mind. Whatever happens to the mind happens to the body as well. If you observe sad and depressed people, their bodies are also depressed. They walk slowly, talk slowly and their body functions are slow and sluggish. The opposite is also true; whatever happens to the body also happens to the mind. Laughter Yoga uses the two-way Body-Mind link to change the state of the mind through voluntary physical gestures including Repetitive Clapping, Chanting, and specific body movements, together with laughter and breathing exercises. In fact, there is a saying in the Laughter Clubs: “If you can't Laugh, bring your body to the Laughter Club!”

Laughter Yoga is all about Joy, not Happiness
Laughter Yoga makes a clear distinction between Happiness and Joyfulness. Happiness is a conditional response, subject to fulfillment of certain desires of the mind. This approach is related to how your life was in the past or how it will be in the future, but it almost never occurs in the present moment. The sad fact is that even if the conditions are fulfilled, Happiness is often fleeting as it is quickly displaced by new conditions (moving goalposts). Do you remember how long you stayed happy after getting that diploma, car, job, or new house that you had worked so long for?

In contrast, Joyfulness is unconditional commitment to be Happy and have fun for the moment, despite the challenges of life. It is easily triggered by joyful activities like laughing, dancing, singing and playing. It is purely a physical phenomenon while Happiness is a concept of the mind. Joyfulness is the basis of Laughter Yoga. During periods of joyfulness, physiological and biochemical changes take place that afford a sense of well-being, completely altering negative outlooks on life and its challenges.

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