Have you ever laughed so hard your stomach hurt? Have you had that worn out feeling after a laughing fit, leaving you feeling both exhausted and happy? Did it feel like a workout? Well, now it is! As part of an actual workout performed by millions all over the world, laughter yoga uses the benefits of laughter to make us feel good both inside and out!
Laughter Yoga, otherwise known as Hasya Yoga, is a form of exercise commonly performed in small groups. Participants make eye contact with one another and force laughter, which eventually becomes genuine, uncontrollable laughter. Coupled with breathing techniques used in ‘old fashioned’ yoga, laughter yoga is meant to promote childlike playfulness, reduce stress and energise the body and mind. In addition, the exercise is meant to give participants a more positive outlook on life, not just during the laughter sessions but in the days and weeks after the experience.
Before laughter yoga became a worldwide phenomenon, it began in India in 1995. Research had already been done to prove that laughter in large doses can have a positive effect on one’s health. The very first session was started by Dr. Madan Kataria, along with four other people, as an experiment to test out previous theories. What he discovered was both insightful and instrumental to our understanding of how laughter works: laughter is contagious. It does not matter what we are laughing at. Simply seeing another person doing it is enough to set us off! The idea of combining it with yoga came from his wife Madhuri Kataria who worked as a yoga instructor at the time. Together, they came up with laughter exercises and breathing exercises for the ever-expanding group of people eager to be a part of this movement.
Laughter on the Brain
Laughing itself is a very quick process! Less than a second of being exposed to something funny is all it takes to trigger a number of areas in the brain. The left hemisphere of our brains (responsible for language and logic) analyses the joke. The right hemisphere of the brain (responsible for interpretation) makes sense of it. The occipital lobe of the brain responsible for visual sensory information creates images in our minds, adding to the effects of the joke. The limbic system, responsible for our emotional responses, makes us feel happier. Then, the motor sections of the brain act to make us laugh!
Intense laughter helps to:
- Improve short-term memory – so really, watching a comedy before studying for a test might not be such a bad idea!
- Improve our productivity and creativity – it loosens us up to take more chances creatively and think up solutions to problems we might not have considered before.
- Increase pain resistance – after laughing, our pain threshold can increase by up to 10% versus where it would have been without it.
- Reduce stress and tension – after all, how can you be tense when you are rolling-on-the-floor-laughing-out-loud?
- Improve our mood – feelings of sadness and anxiety are lessened and replaced with happiness.
Laughter Yoga: Does It Work?
So why does this form of exercise work? Normally one would expect that forcing laugher in the way laughter yoga does would not have any real benefits, especially compared to the real thing, but this is not the case. The body actually does not know the difference between real laughter and the fake stuff, so even if it is forced we still get all of the same health benefits that come from the real thing. The fact that fake laughter quickly becomes real, uncontrollable giggling allows us to keep it going for longer, thus allowing for maximum mental and physical health benefits.
Curious about its effects on overall wellbeing, I tried it out myself! While it does feel a bit strange at first laughing about nothing with a host of unfamiliar people, the awkwardness of the situation, coupled with other people’s reactions to the exercises, actually made it quite funny. Before long, as promised, the shy giggles turned to full-body laughter and I could instantly feel myself relax! The yoga exercises were easy to follow and the deep breathing helped to counter-balance the hysteria.
So if you are looking to shake up your exercise routine, why not try Hasya Yoga with your own group of friends? No joke, you will feel better for it!