Giggles morph into full-bore laughter that escapes from deep inside my core. It first started as forced and awkward. It ended with feeling like my walls came down. I was free and felt light inside. All I had to do was let go, breathe, and laugh. This is Laughter Yoga.
“Laughter yoga is a gentle and unique form of exercise,” Dana Kaplan, a certified Laughter Yoga teacher, said. “It’s a mind-body exercise that incorporates laughter with breathing techniques from yoga.”
The best part is that anyone can do it— no yoga mat is needed.
“If you can breathe, you can do any kind of yoga,” said Kaplan, owner of the Florida-based’ You Smile Yoga.’ “But laughter yoga—everyone knows how to laugh. It’s so easy and so therapeutic. It seems fun and frivolous, but it is really a deep, powerful healing practice.”
Giggling & Its Healing Power
By Lauren Keating
Here, “the laughter is the exercise itself.” Unlike traditional yoga classes, there are no poses. While there can be some gentle movement with the laughing exercises, a class can also be stationary.
“We know that laughter exercises your heart and lungs. It’s great cardiovascular exercise,” Kaplan said. “Ten minutes of hearty laughter is equal to 30 minutes of cardio on an exercise bike or rowing machine.”
According to Laughter Yoga International, just 15 minutes is needed to boost the immune system and reduce stress.
What are participants laughing at? Nothing in particular. Kaplan instructs the class to start fake laughing while making eye contact. There are no jokes or comedy, which can be subjectively funny.
“We think that the health benefits of laughter are too important to leave to chance,” Kaplan said.
Researchers believe the body cannot distinguish between fake and real laughter to get health benefits, which include increased circulation and decreased blood pressure to reduce the risk of heart attack.
At the heart of the exercise is diaphragmatic breathing, which brings oxygen to the body and stimulates the movement of the diaphragm. Laughter helps encourage deep exhalation, which expands the vital capacity of the lungs. As a result, the body is clearing out toxins, decreasing symptoms of asthma, arthritis, and allergies.
“Your brain needs 25 percent more oxygen than the rest of the organs in your body,” said Kaplan. With the brain getting the oxygen it needs, benefits include improved focus, mental clarity, and better memory. Laughter is also a natural analgesic. It produces endorphins, which are like natural painkillers.
“After laughing, you forget about the pain and realize it doesn’t come back,” she said. “The combination of oxygen with the feel-good chemical in the brain
produces this ‘joy cocktail.’”
According to research, the most promising effect of Laughter Yoga is the improvement of mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Laughter helps release the mental stress of all the deadlines and to-do lists in our heads and the emotional stress from our interactions and relationships.
“The stress can be from this morning, it could be from last year, your childhood, or from lifetimes ago that we may still be carrying around with us,” Kaplan, who calls herself a ‘recovering perfectionist,’ said. Despite being “wired for negativity,” Laughter Yoga helps to clear the path to better control our mood and helps us keep a positive attitude.
“It’s easy to laugh when times are good. It’s not so easy to laugh when times are challenging,” said Kaplan. “When we learn to laugh for no reason, we learn that we can laugh anytime we want—even when times are challenging.”
Feeling the release from a laughter yoga class is powerful. It’s common to feel emotional after. Kaplan said it’s normal to feel like crying and don’t know why. “You’re releasing stuck energy in the body, and tears are the other side of that,” she said. “Laughing and crying are yin and yang. How can we feel our pure joy if we can’t feel our grief and vice versa?”
Classes are best done in a group, providing a sense of permission to laugh to ease comfort level while triggering genuine laughter. In a class, expect stretching, clapping, and chanting—the latter providing this sense of community and human connection that provides an almost out-of-body experience.
Laughter yoga was created by Dr. Madan Kataria in India in 1995 and has been on the rise since. It is now practiced in over 10,000 Laughter Clubs in more than 120 countries worldwide. “Since the pandemic, we’ve become so aware of our isolation,” said Kaplan. “We have an epidemic of loneliness.”
Never meeting the people in the Zoom class didn’t matter when class ended. There was this sense of connecting at a deeper level, which is what Kaplan said is the real meaning of yoga.
“Imagine if we are all laughing together,” said Kaplan, “how could I judge you, be angry at you, or hate you when I just laughed with you? There’s this feeling when you do laughter yoga that we are all part of the same soul, part of the same infinite love, and we bypass the differences. It helps us go back to the true meaning of yoga—which is integration and unity.”
If laughter is the best medicine, then laughing yoga is precisely what needs to be prescribed.