Ask the Expert: All About Laughter Yoga
Many thanks to Chantel Zimmerman for sharing her expertise on Laughter Yoga and its benefits! Chantel is leading a free Laughter Yoga workshop at the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara on Tuesday, June 9, 6:30pm at 530 Hampshire Road in Westlake Village. RSVP 805.379.4777. Details available here.
What is laughter yoga in a nutshell?
Laughter Yoga is a form of “therapeutic laughter”. It is a stress reduction and immunity-building tool that uses laughter exercises (unconditional laughter), yogic breathing, gentle stretching, and guided visualization to induce health and wellness benefits. Laughter exercises don’t rely on humor, jokes or comedy to generate laughter. Instead, participants experience “voluntary” laughter.
Laughter Yoga sessions are facilitated by laughter yoga leaders who guide participants through a variety of playful, child-like activities i.e. blowing imaginary bubbles while laughing, pretending to be on a rollercoaster and laughing through the thrill of it, or eating ‘laughter snacks’ that cause the giggles – these exercises provide an opportunity to laugh voluntarily.
Research suggests that our brains and bodies don’t know the difference between spontaneous “real” laughter, and induced or “voluntary” laughter, and that both offer a variety of health benefits. Put another way, voluntary laughter produces the same psychological and physiological benefits as spontaneous laughter.
Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga, explains what happens during a typical laughter yoga session:
“Laughter is simulated as a physical exercise while participants maintain eye contact with others in the group. …A session starts with “gentle warm-up techniques which include stretching, chanting, clapping and body movement. Breathing exercises are used to prepare the lungs for laughter followed by a series of ‘laughter exercises’ that combine the method of acting and visualization techniques with playfulness. …Laughter exercises are interspersed with breathing exercises. …A laughter yoga session may finish with ‘Laughter Meditation ‘…and guided relaxation” (Laughter Yoga International Leader Training Manual 2014 edition)
What are the benefits of laughter yoga?
- Increased oxygen to the body
- Immune system support
- Stress reduction
- Enhanced sense of well-being
- Increased happiness
- Interpersonal bonding
- Strengthens diaphragm and tones facial muscles
- Cardiovascular workout
- Promotes circulation
- Reduces blood pressure
- Releases endorphins – “good for us” hormones
- Elevates your mood
How long has laughter yoga been around and can it be traced back to a founder?
Laughter Yoga was created in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor in India who was researching the benefits of laughter on health. Laughter yoga is now practiced in countries all around the world.
How can laughter yoga be particularly beneficial for someone affected by cancer?
Laughter Yoga increases oxygen levels in the body, bringing more oxygen to each of our cells – cancer can’t thrive in an aerobic environment. People suffering from cancer, or the medicines associated with fighting cancer, can experience depression and anxiety, laughter yoga serves as a “mood booster”. Laughter is the best medicine, or so “they” say – laughing supports our immune systems – those who are on chemo-therapy need all the support they can get. Lastly, cancer patients have a heavy stress load, laughter yoga reduces stress and increases relaxation.
How do you get people to laugh who are struggling with physical pain or feel very stressed out?
Our brains can’t think of two things at once – so we “trick” our brains by doing the laughter exercises – then they aren’t focused on the pain. Even if people are in pain they can voluntarily laugh, and as they do so, endorphins are released, thus reducing the intensity of pain. In fact, Dr. Kataria was inspired by Norman Cousins book “Anatomy of an Illness” in which Cousins explains how he found that ten minutes of mirthful laughter gave him two hours of pain-free sleep.
What is your advice for someone who wants to practice laughter yoga but doesn’t know how to start and is unable to attend your workshop?
Google is your friend! There are many, many on-line Laughter Yoga tutorials. Here are a couple of great websites:
Is there anything else you would like people to know about laughter yoga, yoga in general, or meditation?
At first Laughter Yoga can be a bit off-putting because very few of us are used to laughing for no reason, and we pride ourselves on being “serious adults”, so people need to come to laughter yoga with an open, willing attitude, and to throw self-consciousness and their “inner critic” out the window during the Laughter Yoga session. Laughter Yoga is not business as usual, and we can’t expect to act like we normally would. The best thing is to allow our “inner child” to come out and play, get silly, pretend, have fun, and know that these are “exercises” that can improve the quality of our life. It’s important to remember too that you don’t have to be in a good mood to do laughter yoga – you just need to show up and exercise!
If you can’t make it to Chantel’s workshop on June 9th, she is also leading a six-week laughter yoga class at the Borchard Community Center beginning July 1, 2015 from 6pm-7pm. Click here for details.