What is laughter yoga?


Devotees of laughter yoga in Mumbai
Devotees of laughter yoga in Mumbai
Associated Press/Gautam Singh

How does a laughter milkshake sound? What about a joy cocktail? Though the former may sound like a fast food kid's meal accompaniment and the latter like an urban professional's happy hour order, both are related to the practice of laughter yoga. To make a laughter milkshake, you pantomime mixing the ingredients of a milkshake together and drinking it, laughing all the while. Practice enough laughter exercises like making that milkshake, and proponents of laughter yoga say that your body will release a joy cocktail, which is a mix of hormones and chemicals that will keep your body in a state of health and happiness.

Whether or not you want to call it a joy cocktail, laughter may have some great benefits for the mind and body. It's believed that laughter improves circulation, stimulates the immune system, exercises muscles, reduces stress hormones and alleviates depression and anxiety [sources: Kanigel, Laughter Yoga International]. Laughter yoga is an easy way to incorporate laughter into your daily life, and it requires no special skill or athletic ability to practice. A typical session involves stretching, deep breathing and laughter exercises along the lines of making the milkshake.

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Laughter yoga was developed in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria, who formulated the practice on the idea that our bodies can't tell the difference between real and fake laughter. Because both kinds of laughs produce the same beneficial results, it doesn't matter if a person has to fake a few laughs. There are still health benefits to be had, and the moves in Kataria's routine seem designed to get even a curmudgeon truly laughing before the end of the session.

That's because his laughter exercises are designed to get you out of your head and into your body. Adults tend to laugh because their mind finds something funny, but think of how children laugh -- they tend to laugh more for no reason at all, and not because their intellect was tickled by a late-night talk show host. In laughter yoga, however, you get back down to using your body to create laughter for no reason at all, by doing exercises with a group of people typically known as a laughter club. On the next page, we'll rewind in time to learn about the very first laughter club.

Laughter Yoga Founder

Laughter yoga instructors such as Jeffrey Briar have followed in Dr. Kataria's footsteps.
Laughter yoga instructors such as Jeffrey Briar have followed in Dr. Kataria's footsteps.
Associated Press/Chris Carlson

Laughter yoga's founder is Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian physician. In 1995, he was researching an article called "Laughter: The Best Medicine" for his medical magazine. Impressed by the potential health benefits of laughter, Kataria wanted to make laughing part of people's daily routine, so he went to a nearby park in Mumbai, where he asked people to join a laughter club. On that first day in the park, four other people, including his wife, joined him. The group stood in a circle and took turns telling jokes, trying to make the other members laugh.

However, after only a few days, the group members were out of jokes, and the jokes that were being told had devolved into vulgarity and smuttiness, which was offensive to some members. Not wanting to relinquish these afternoons of shared laughter, Kataria asked the group to give him a day to come up with something else to get them to laugh. He decided to try different ways of acting out laughter, even if the laughter was forced and fake.

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Kataria came to the park the next day with a repertoire of silly expressions, poses and sounds that would come to form the basis of laughter yoga. Though the laughter was fake at the beginning, it soon turned into honest belly laughter. One of Kataria's signature moves was something he called the lion laugh: He'd roar with laughter while his hands, like paws, clawed the air. He combined laughing exercises like this with the stretching and mindful breathing that are hallmarks of more traditional yoga practice.

The practice of laughter yoga has grown tremendously since that first laughter club in a park in Mumbai. Today, there are more than 6,000 laughter clubs in 60 countries [source: Laughter Yoga International]. Laughter yoga has been practiced in schools, prisons, homes for senior citizens, offices and hospitals. Kataria hopes that one day, we might have world peace because we're all so happy from laughter [source: Cheng]. Ready to see how you can have this kind of happiness? On the next page, we'll take a look at a typical laughter yoga session.

Laughter Yoga Technique

Laughing exercises
Laughing exercises
Associated Press/Chris Carlson

If you're happy and you know it -- clap your hands! That's more than the refrain of a popular children's song. It's also how every session of laughter yoga gets started. Whether they start off happy or not, people begin a laughter yoga practice by rhythmically clapping their hands together. No golf claps, please -- laughter yoga requires full finger-on-finger and palm-on-palm contact, which is believed to increase energy levels by stimulating pressure points [source: Gendry]. While clapping, participants chant "Ho, ho, ha, ha, ha!" This activates the diaphragm and prepares the body to breathe deeply throughout the practice.

During the clapping and chanting warm-up, people may begin dancing or speaking in gibberish. No words are allowed during laughter yoga, except by the instructor. Rather, gibberish is used to lower inhibitions and to bring participants back to a more childlike state. Since children often laugh for no reason at all, they're a good model for laughter yoga technique.

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After warming up, laughter yoga instructors may lead participants through some deep breathing and stretching exercises, but the heart of the laughter yoga technique is laughter exercise. Throughout the exercises, it's important to make eye contact with other participants; this keeps you present. Here are few laughter exercises that participants might practice:

  • Greeting laughter: Participants walk around the room and greet one another with a hearty laugh.
  • Gradient laughter: Participants begin by smiling, then allow themselves to chuckle, increasing the laughter by degrees until a peak of loud belly laughter fills the room; the process is then reversed so that everyone ends smiling.
  • Driving laughter: Participants pretend they are driving a car and laugh.
  • Argument laughter: Participants argue with one another, but rather than yelling, they laugh.
  • Cell phone laughter: Participants hold an imaginary cell phone and laugh into it; they may pass the phone to other participants or make funny gestures about their phone call to other participants.
  • Heart laughter: Participants hold hands or hug as they laugh together.

Laughter yoga sessions typically end with a laughter meditation. During this time, people breathe deeply and laugh when they feel like it. After a few minutes, instructors usually ask for the laughter to stop for another period of meditation, in which the body can come to a grounded and calm state. Who are these instructors that lead the laughing and meditation? Find out on the next page.

Laughter Yoga Instructors

A laughter yoga instructor works with a student.
A laughter yoga instructor works with a student.
Associated Press/Chris Carlson

Many people learned of the work of Dr. Patch Adams through the Robin Williams movie of the same name. If you were inspired by the film, in which a doctor sees how humor can heal, but didn't have the desire to go to medical school, then becoming a laughter yoga instructor might be for you. Anyone can become a laughter yoga instructor, provided he or she has an interest in helping people to laugh.

Many laughter yoga instructors have studied with Dr. Kataria, who is working on setting up Laughter Yoga Universities all over the world. Until then, those interested in becoming teachers can attend the Kataria-approved Certified Laughter Yoga Leader Training, which is offered in several locations across the United States throughout the year.

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During the two-day training, which costs approximately $300, participants learn how to lead sessions of laughter yoga. They become well-versed in the benefits of the practice and learn how to lead local laughter clubs. After the two-day training, participants are certified laughter yoga instructors for life.

There's no single way to lead a session of laughter yoga, so instructors are encouraged to use their training in combination with their own creativity to get other people laughing. Most laughter yoga instructors begin working with laughter clubs, which are social organizations devoted to the practice of laughter yoga. In addition to regularly laughing together, these groups serve as a form of social support for members; the Laughter Yoga International Web site tells the story of a woman who became so depressed after the death of her longtime husband that she began refusing food. Members of her laughter club gathered in her home to take care of her and ensure that she ate. The support provided by the club members sustained the woman, who in gratitude began starting other laughter clubs [source: Laughter Yoga International].

The activities of each laughter club might vary, but one activity usually brings most practitioners of laughter yoga together: World Laughter Day, celebrated the first Sunday in May. On World Laughter Day, created by Kataria in 1998, everyone is encouraged to set aside negativity and speak the universal language of laughter.

We have tons of information about laughter that you can throw out on the next World Laughter Day -- just head on over to the next page to see some related articles.

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Sources

  • "About the Certified Laughter Yoga Leader Training." American School of Laughter Yoga. (May 11, 2009)http://www.laughteryoga.us/laughter-leader-training.php
  • Cheng, Scarlet. "Laughter is not a joke: Dr. Madan Kataria is trying to change the world one guffaw at a time." Los Angeles Times. April 28, 2005.
  • Eyres, Harry. "Like jogging, but less painful." Financial Times. May 27, 2006.
  • Gendry, Sebastien. "How Laughter Yoga Works." American School of Laughter Yoga. (May 11, 2009)http://www.laughteryoga.us/how-laughter-yoga-works.php
  • Giraud, Antoine. "Laughter Yoga." Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition. October 2008.
  • Kanigel, Rachele. "The Laughter Cure." Yoga Journal. (May 11, 2009)http://www.yogajournal.com/health/2533
  • Laughter Yoga International Web site. (May 11, 2009)http://www.laughteryoga.org/
  • "Laughter yoga no joke for fad's followers." Associated Press. Nov. 30, 2006. (May 11, 2009)http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15971624/
  • Saranow, Jennifer. "Latest Hybrid Yoga Encourages Giggling Toward a Higher Plane." Wall Street Journal. Oct. 12, 2004.
  • Trump, Eric. "Got the Giggles? Join the Club." New York Times. July 27, 2002. (May 11, 2009)http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/27/arts/27LAUG.html?scp=2&sq=madan%20kataria&st=cse
  • World Laughter Day Web site. (May 11, 2009)http://www.worldlaughterday.org/