Have you noticed how often you laugh lately? Being in a pandemic has raised our fear and anxiety levels so much that laughing is probably the last thing on your mind. And yet laughter is a wonderful tool in our self care toolbox, there are huge benefits to your body and mind. We need all the positive emotion we can get at the moment and laughter is a shortcut to wellbeing.
I became aware of laughter yoga in 2015 when I saw an advert for a laughter yoga session at a Spa. I went along and loved it. I vowed to find a local club and then it dropped off of my radar. One year later I discovered that there was an established laughter club a few miles away from my home. I told my family I was going along to the session and they looked mystified. When I returned home they asked me how I had got on, ‘It was like being at a children’s birthday party’ I said. It appealed to my sense of fun and silliness and I was hooked.
A medical Doctor, Madan Kataria, founded laughter yoga when he gathered 5 people together in Mumbai with the aim of sharing laughter for health benefits. This was in 1995 and laughter yoga groups are now held worldwide. Think about what happens to you when you laugh, you are likely to stop thinking about the past or the future, in this way laughter puts us firmly in the present. When we are in the present moment we are engaged and connected. We know that children laugh easily and effortlessly and yet adults may lack laughter in their lives or believe that there is nothing to laugh about in their life. What a shame to miss out on the boost of endorphins, the happy hormones, that are released in the body when we laugh. These happy hormones help reduce stress and increase our well-being. Laughter yoga is based on the theory that our body doesn’t know the difference between forced laughter, such as laughter yoga exercises, and spontaneous laughter. Frequently the forced laughter turns into spontaneous laughter anyway. Laughter builds positivity and optimism, increases joy and zest and is an antidote to anxiety and fear. A really useful way to change our mood in the current climate.
I continued to attend my local laughter group and I have been running my own laughter sessions for over a year. We held the sessions in a local hall and there was a real community spirit and warmth between the members. Laughter breaks down barriers, we may not know people’s stories but we share in their laughter, we know each other’s laugh and their favourite laughter exercises. Laughter is connecting and it is contagious, the laughter builds as it is passed around the group. Funny things are funnier when they are shared. The exercises are playful and we move through them quickly to ease any self consciousness. Being in a physical space means that we can move around the room, and laughter yoga can be as physical as you want it to be. It is also accessible to someone who needs to remain seated. Laughter yoga is unrelated to the physical practice of yoga poses, and yet breathing from the diaphragm is related to the practice of yoga. It gives a whole body workout, especially to the abdominals. Laughing increases oxygen to the body and brain and relaxes muscles and promotes relaxation.
During Lockdown we moved the sessions online which has given us a different experience. An important element of laughter yoga is to have eye contact with others and this is more obvious when you are looking at each other on a screen. We wanted to continue our laughter sessions to exercise our lungs, to boost our immune system, to keep our connection to others and because the sessions are fun. For some, being online is less exposing than being in a room with others, especially if you feel self conscious. Being online brings us more flexibility and accessibility. We are able to spread our laughter further, from our local community to anyone in the world.
Following a recent session we reflected on what the benefits of laughter yoga are to us. These are the voices of those who have benefitted from laughter yoga;
In my experience people don’t understand how we can sit in a room and laugh at nothing, I have to come to the group, if I don’t come I can feel my mood change and I get grumpy. I have noticed that the people in the group are much more confident, I can see that they laugh more now than when they first came. I used to dread some of the exercises and now I enjoy it more. I notice that if I feel happy I feel happier and if I feel low I will feel that more intensely. I had suffered with anxiety for a while, I came along to laughter yoga and loved it from the very beginning. After I had been coming for about 4 months I had an epiphany! During the free laughter section I cried, it was almost as if I was letting go of my troubles and I was coming back to my real self. I also realised that I haven’t been unwell since I’ve been coming, I haven’t had the colds and viruses that I used to get. I use some of the exercises in my daily life.
And finally, this is what I think about laughter yoga and what it gives me;
I loved it straight away, I like being silly. I realise how much I like making people laugh. Laughter brings me to the present moment; I am there in my body. There is an acceptance about it, you can’t do it wrong, the sillier the better. It is a gift to share. It lifts me up and I laugh more readily in my life.
So, you have heard about the benefits. Why wait for something to make you laugh so that you can experience all of these benefits. Let go of your rational mind, connect with your body and go through the motions of some laughter exercises. Let me know what happens!