The Amazing Benefits of Laughter Yoga
When was the last time you laughed? I mean really laughed, so hard that you cried. Do you remember what made you laugh so hard? Do you remember how good it felt? What if you could feel that good everyday, just by laughing, for no reason at all, especially in dark times where you seemingly have nothing to laugh about and so many reasons to cry.
My foray into Laughter Yoga
When Amal’s daycare told us they were going to introduce laughter yoga to the kids once a week, I had no idea what it was. So, when they announced that they would also be starting a Yoga Laughter Club at a mindfulness center down the street from our home, I had no excuse but to go check it out. I had no idea what to expect, but I wanted to find out more about this new activity that Amal was involved in.
Besides the instructors, whom I knew as Amal’s teachers, the room was full of strangers and a few faces I recognized from daycare drop off and pick up. The instructors explained the concept to us and before I knew it the music was blasting and everyone was dancing and clapping. We all instinctively followed the instructors lead.
I didn’t expect what happened next
Within seconds I felt a surge of emotions rise to the surface and I had to hold back tears as I jumped and smiled and clapped my way around the room with a bunch of strangers.. I had been doing a lot of personal growth and development work, and on the tail end of the roller coaster ride that is post partum stress syndrome and for the first time in a long time I felt carefree and it felt good.
We moved on to a combination of yoga breathing techniques to calm the mind and body, laughter exercises to stimulate the diaphragm, group sign-along’s to a popular music and more dancing. The idea is to force yourself to laugh, for no reason, until eventually your fake laughter turns into real laughter.
It felt awkward at times and some people even stopped participating or got up and left the class, but I stuck out.
Real change happens when you step outside your comfort zone.
I followed along, I laughed voluntarily, I felt the energy in the room and I took in the laughter around me until I began laughing involuntarily and it felt good. Really good.
I made a very conscious decision to keep coming back, check my judgement and ego at the door, to fully participate and let myself go, and in the months to follow I did just that. I threw caution to the wind, and dove in head first and I’ve had some of the best most genuine laughs of my life in those classes. You know the “it hurts to breath kind of laughs” that leave you doubled over in stitches, tears streaming down your face? Those ones.
Yes, sometimes I have to force myself to laugh, but the more classes I attend the more natural it becomes to laugh just for the sake of laughing and the more time I spend in real genuine laughter.
But even the fake laughter feels good.
Laughter truly is the best medicine
It turns out, our body doesn’t know the difference between real and fake laughter. Whether forced or genuine, laughter comes with a long list of scientifically proven health benefits:
it triggers the release of endorphins and increases pain tolerance;
it lowers cortisol levels and helps you feel more happy and relaxed even in stressful situations;
it stimulates circulation, improves cardiac health and brings blood flow to the surface of the skin giving your face that youthful glow;
it brings more oxygen into the body and improves respiratory function;
it boosts the immune system and helps you fight disease and infections;
it lowers blood pressure;
…and if those aren’t good enough reasons to laugh, well it’s a pretty darn good workout. Dr. William Fry of Stanford University found out that laughing 200 times can burn as many calories as rowing intensely for 10 minutes, boosting your energy and giving you that alive feeling (1).
Practice makes perfect
Don’t worry, we’re not seeking perfection here. I don’t usually like this expression even, but it gets to the point.
The more you laugh the easier it becomes to laugh (your diaphragm and the lighter and less serious life becomes. Laughter truly becomes your go to medicine for sadness, stress, anxiety and general mental health. It’s a natural mood booster and a free and easy way to feel calm and relaxed.
Whether or not you practice laughter yoga, there are ways that you can incorporate more joy and laughter into your life every single day. Here are just a few ways.
Smile. Smiling makes us feel good. It relaxes the facial muscles and calms the nervous system. It’s also contagious. Have you ever noticed that if someone smiles at you, you smile back, and as you pass the next person, they see you smiling and smile too. It’s a domino effect and it’s beautiful.
Dance. Dancing is a great way to feel good fast whether or not you have rhythm. The physical movement helps reduce stress and anxiety, improves our mood and general mental health. Just one lively dance session can slay depression more than vigorous exercise or listening to upbeat music(2). Dancing with others can also help you feel more emotionally connected and social, both of which have positive effects on mental health.
Sing. A recent study has show that singing your heart out IN A GROUP makes people happier by reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and loneliness (2). Laughter Yoga makes a great environment for this, as group sing-alongs are incorporated into the class, but you can also reap the benefits of this by joining a choir, a signing workshop or by singing at home with your children.
Laugh. Chose to laugh whenever you can, even for no reason at all. Laughing in good times comes easy to most, and laughing in difficult times is the real challenge. Set aside 10 minutes a day when you are alone, in a private space and won’t be interrupted and force yourself to laugh (especially on days when it feels like laughing is the last thing you want to do) until fake laughter turns into real laughter. It may not happen immediately, but with time, real laughter becomes easier on demand.
I incorporate these into my everyday with the help of my toddler. We sing and dance our hearts out to her favourite tunes, we toss around balloons, throw stuffed animals up into the air and catch them or tickle each other and laugh out loud in the process. Children make it easier to incorporate laughter into your everyday because they are naturals at it. If you don’t have children, it may feel more silly to do these things on your own or with another grown up, but who really cares???
In any case, I encourage you to look for a Laughter Yoga Club in your area and to give it a shot before making your mind up about it. There are hundreds if not thousands of clubs world wide offering FREE classes, find the one nearest to you and give it a go.