How can laughter yoga nourish your soul?
While yoga is a path to peace and happiness for many practitioners, one approach that is enjoying great popularity is known as laughter yoga, or Hasya yoga (the word ‘hasya’ means ‘laughter’ in Sanskrit). Laughter yoga’s origins can be traced back to 1995, when a family doctor from India, Dr Madan Lal Kataria, conceived the idea of “laughter as a form of exercise”.
Dr Kataria’s early experiments with laughter as a path towards relieving stress included ‘laughter clubs’, but he soon became disillusioned with this venture. Shifting his focus to the way laughter tends to spread as people begin laughing in response to the laughter of others around them, he gradually developed a collection of physical activities intended to encourage people to laugh without needing humour.
The similarities Dr Kataria noticed between the physical act of laughter and yogic breathing exercises (pranayamas) inspired him to include various aspects of yoga into his techniques.
In 1999, Dr Kataria published the book Laugh For No Reason, and travelled extensively, promoting laughter yoga and training instructors all over the world. His efforts brought laughter yoga international recognition, and it is now being enjoyed in more than 110 countries.
Benefits of laughter yoga
Even though Hasya yoga is probably the youngest popular variety being practised, considerable research has been done on the possible health benefits of laughter. The results of one study indicate that a laughter and exercise program may significantly increase bone density in elderly people, while another has linked laughter with an increased ability to tolerate pain.
Research conducted by Deakin University suggested that just one session of laughter yoga could reduce stress levels of businesspeople by up to 10%, as evaluated by indicators such as self-esteem and general life satisfaction. One study suggests laughter yoga may improve heart rate variability, and laughter has been observed to measureably reduce stress-hormone levels. Laughter yoga wellness programs have been reported to significantly improve the mindset of cancer survivors and people with disabilities.
Laughter yoga may assist in relieving symptoms related to:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Back pain
- Balance, stability and coordination
- Circulation and cardiovascular conditions
- Concentration, focus and problem solving
- Confidence and self-esteem
- Dementia and alzheimer's
- Energy and vitality
- Flexibility, endurance and strength
- Mental health
- Muscle spasm, tightness and cramps
- Osteoporosis and bone density
- Panic attacks
- Respiratory and breathing issues
- Stress and tension
- Weight control and obesity
What to expect from a laughter yoga session
Largely agreed to be one of the mildest and least challenging forms of yoga, laughter yoga can be practised by people of all ages, regardless of their fitness level. Laughter yoga for seniors is promoted as a way of improving physical and psychological health, while laughter yoga for kids is a fun way to be active with your children and spend quality time together as a family.
A yoga laughter therapy session typically takes about 30 to 60 minutes, but can last up to two hours or more. The class will often start with a warm-up that involves simple breathing exercises and stretches. These are followed by playful exercises such as clapping, chanting and eye contact, to help participants feel less self-conscious, and encourage laughter.
Even though it takes a bit of focus to start laughing, participants’ laughter soon becomes genuine and spontaneous. The main part of the session usually includes deep breathing exercises as well as hearty shared laughter, winding up with laughing meditation and sometimes a grounding exercise as well.
Despite its low-intensity nature, it’s still a good idea to consult your medical professional before commencing laughter yoga. If you have an injury or other health issue, or any concerns at all, also speak to your laughter yoga instructor, who will be happy to address these and adjust the session to your individual requirements.