Laughter Yoga - a life changing move

Apparently 2014 is THE year for change and certainly for me it's turning into a year like no other. That's down to a number of things. However, discovering Hasya or Laughter Yoga has been pivotal. Now I get the feeling that my life will never be quite the same again.

I actually stumbled upon Laughter Yoga quite by accident whilst researching for a piece about Yoga and health. I already practise Ashtanga Yoga and, as I  am on a quest to get more happiness into my life, I was drawn to find out more.

So, what is Laughter Yoga?

Laughter Yoga is a unique concept which allows us to laugh for no reason and all without the use of jokes, humour or comedy.  It's called Laughter Yoga because it combines yogic breathing with playful laughter exercises, which creates  simulated or fake laughter. With practise this laughter becomes genuine. However, the brain can't distinguish between the two and  all the health and other benefits are gained just the same.

Laughter Yoga can be performed alone. However, it's preferable to do this with others in a laughter club. There are many reasons for this:

  • Laughter clubs  provide the participants with a safe non-judgemental environment where they can laugh for no reason without feeling too inhibited.
  • Group interaction is an important element of the laughter experience and is considered central to prolonged, hearty and unconditional laughter - the type of laughter required to create all the health benefits.
  • In a group positive inter-personal relationships and meaningful social dynamics are created which, for me, is a good enough reason for doing it. However, there are additional social benefits. This type of group activity is great for brain health and is particularly good  for older people. Also, the social aspect of the experience fosters a greater sense of caring and compassion for others. 
The other important basic principles of Laughter Yoga clubs are that they are:
  • Not religious
  • Not political
  • Not for profit

I was surprised to learn that Laughter Yoga has  actually been around since 1995 when it's founder, a medical doctor called Madan Kataria, started up with 5 people in a park in Mombai. It's since gone global and now there are some 10,000 laughter clubs in 70 countries. For those in the UK laughter clubs have sprung up all over the place. There's even a telephone laughter club, which runs from 7am for 10 minutes Monday - Friday.

I'm participating in  the  telephone club this month. It's a bit hard initially but it all comes together surprisingly quickly and I certainly feel refreshed afterwards. This month I'm fortunate to have someone to share the laughter session with and we finish with a 10 minute humming meditation, which is a fantastic experience.

Laughter Yoga is relatively safe and easy to do and accessible to most. Although, as with most types of exercise,  there are a few conditions - eg glaucoma, poorly controlled heart disease and psychotic illness -where it's best to avoid this practise. Pregnancy is also a relative contra-indication. However, if you're unsure and you want to give it a try turn up at your nearest club. It's ok to just observe and you can always discuss any concerns with the laughter leader before making a decision as to whether it's for you.
I've just completed a 2-day laughter leader's course in the historic city of Durham. Here are a few thoughts about the experience.

Day 1

Despite being out of  my comfort zone and feeling self conscious about the laughter exercises and some personal boundary issues the day started well with an interesting and lively overview of some of the Laughter Yoga theory. Our facilitator - Lotte Mikkelsen - then introduced us to the warm up, followed by an introduction to the clapping, chanting, stretching and yogic breathing involved. After which it was straight into the laughter exercises.

If I'm honest, although interesting,  I can't say that I enjoyed the exercises at the outset. However, I persevered and it grew on me. The highlight of Day 1  for me was the humming meditation which was done at the end of the morning session. (This type of meditation  is one of a few grounding exercises to finish off a laughter session.)

After lunch we were introduced to some more theory and had a go at delivering a talk about Laughter Yoga. Throughout the day plenty of time was allowed for questions and somewhat surprisingly, we kept to time and finished  early.

Later at home I felt really energised and packed much more into my evening than I would usually have the energy for. I'm learning  the recorder at the moment and, when I started to practise, I was astonished by the confidence of my playing and the improvements in breath control. Also, without getting into too much detail, there was much elimination of toxins that evening; necessitating frequent visits to the bathroom!

Day 2

I felt  more relaxed on Day 2 and noticed that I did  the exercises in a surprisingly playful and less inhibited way; with moments of genuine fun and spontaneity. Lotte gave an interesting talk about her experiences with running laughter clubs and we discussed it's many and varied applications. She described her work with prisoners, pensioners and  people with physical and learning disabilities and touched on her work using Laughter Yoga in the business world.  She also talked about her forth coming move to the north east and how passionate she felt about bringing Laughter Yoga to the people here; a shared sentiment.

The day finished with each of us demonstrating how we would run a Laughter Yoga session. (Pretty much without notes, which is a bit scary when your mind goes blank.) Then came  presentation of certificates - all done with great pageantry, in a red carpet sort of a way, with plenty of laughter.

I've come away from the training with a desire to incorporate Laughter Yoga into my every day life. I also want to share the experience of laughing for no reason  with others. It's true that, at the outset, I had some issues and concerns. (More a reflection of my own inhibitions.) However, none of this spoilt the experience and overall the benefits far out-weighed any thing else. Now I can see that Laughter Yoga is going to be a major part of my life from now on.

Interestingly enough the Laughter Yoga leader's course co-incided with the new moon in Gemini, which reminds us to be curious and explore unconsidered avenues. When you are open to "not knowing" you are open to new discoveries. So,  get curious and follow new ideas. Then be prepared to be amazed. It could be a roller-coaster ride!

Laughter Yoga is great for health and is just right for anyone who wants to breathe properly for a living! Also, if you need more happiness in their life it's a good place to start. Look out for a Laughter Yoga club near you. If you live in the north east of England and there isn't a club  near you and you would like one setting up, do get in touch. I'm also available to give taster talks to interested groups.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Look out for my next post about Laughter Yoga and health. In the meantime keep laughing for no reason.

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