Laughter…and…Yoga? Together? How?

Yes, Laughter Yoga (Hasyayoga) is a real practice. It’s transformative and cathartic, it reconnects you with your true happy self, and is also a great way to continue your yoga practice through any injuries or ailments taking you away from your mat.

I found Laughter yoga while walking in a park one morning. I heard what I thought at the time to be insane laughters from a group of “crazy people” at Balboa Park in San Diego, CA. I looked into it online, and became very excited about the concept, even before my first class. I had been a Stand Up Comedian and Improviser for many years. I am also a Yoga Instructor. I felt those two passions, Comedy and Yoga, were so opposite that there was no possible way to combine them.

Little did I know, Laughter Yoga has nothing to do with Comedy; we aren’t telling jokes, we aren’t making fun of ourselves or situations. It’s collaborative, supportive, and much needed play time for Adults.

Here’s what I hear most of the time when I tell people I’m a Laughter Yoga Leader, “Sounds like my biggest, fear – someone laughing at me in class because I have no idea what I’m doing!” or
“Wait, so I’m supposed to laugh while holding down dog?”

When people are resistant to trying it, the main excuses I hear are “I’m not funny, or flexible” or the good ol’ stand by, “That sounds weird!” Anyone who has tried Laugher Yoga is an advocate for the practice. How they feel, how they want to continue this practice in their lives, and how they wish they had tried it sooner.

So what is Laughter yoga?

Laughter Yoga is a unique practice which combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (Pranayama).

The History:

Laughter Yoga was started in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria in Mumbai, India. He persuaded 4 people to join him in the park and thus started the very first “Laughter Club”. The small group quickly grew to 50 people within a few days. After a few weeks, they ran into a problem. The jokes got old and no one was laughing anymore. The group became so large and some jokes became offensive to certain members.

Dr. Kataria wanted to fix this. He reviewed his research on Laughter being the best medicine and he found that: “our body cannot differentiate between acted and genuine laughter. Both produced the same ‘happy chemistry’. “(Source: Laughter Yoga International University Certified Laughter Yoga Leader Training Manual)

Dr. Kataria came back the next day and tried to get the group to laugh without jokes. He realized there were other ways to stimulate laughter and developed a wide range of laughter exercises. He also worked with his wife, Madhuri Kataria, a traditional Yoga Instructor, to develop different breathing techniques for the practice. Together they created Laughter Yoga!

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So how do you do it?

Your Laughter Yoga Leader will guide you through a series of laughter exercises that draw on role-play, imagination, and pure silliness to stimulate real laughter.  The key here is we are practicing Unconditional Laughter. It’s not your regular type of laughter, which is conditional. It isn’t dependent on the brain saying “yes, that is funny, I will laugh now”. It’s unconditional, so basically we “fake it til we make it”!  The fake laughter soon turns into real, contagious laughter.

What Happens in a Laughter Yoga Session?
  1. Clapping and Warming-up Exercises
    This can be chanting and moving, gibberish talking, etc.
  2. Deep Breathing Exercises
    In between laughter exercises, you’ll practice deep breathing techniques to help flush the lungs as well as bring physical and mental relaxation.
  3. Laughter Exercises
    There are many different exercises that combine unconditional laughter, with eye contact and some type of gesture, breath work, or role playing techniques to reduce inhibition, increase social connection, and induce real contagious laughter!
  4. Childlike Playfulness

Go to a class – you’ll see what we mean!

So Why Practice Laughter Yoga?

Plain and simple, it’s good, clean fun!  And it’s good for you too!

Here are the main health benefits of Laughter Yoga…and these are just the tip of the ice berg!  I’ve heard everything from “It’s made me a better partner Husband” to “It makes me wanna work on an excel spreadsheet for hours, I feel so focused and clear”

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Health Benefits:
  1. Increases the net supply of oxygen to your body
  2. Increases Blood Circulation
  3. Stress Buster – Cortisol levels decrease
  4. Increases Self Confidence
  5. Increases Communication Skills
  6. Maintains Emotional Balance
  7. Boosts your Immune System!
  8. Decreases:  Depression, Anxiety, and Panic Attacks
  9. A Natural Pain Killer
  10. And it’s even a good cardio workout!

According to Dr. William Fry, 10 minutes of hearty laughter is equal to 30 minutes on the rowing machine! Some people say, well if that’s true how come I can’t watch a funny movie and get the same benefits? Here’s why?

Comedy Doesn’t Cut It:

In order to get the health benefits we have to laugh for at least 10-15 minutes straight! Laughter also has to be loud and deep, coming from the diaphragm. This kind of laughter is not well accepted in real life… people might not want to go to the movies with you again! Natural Laughter that courses through our life depends upon many reasons, and conditions, but there are not many reasons which make us laugh. That means we are leaving laughter to chance, it may happen it may not. In Laughter Yoga, we are not leaving laughter to chance, but doing it out of commitment. This is a guaranteed way of getting the health benefits!

If I haven’t convinced you yet; go try a Laughter Yoga Club near you. Most are free, or very inexpensive, (we’re talking $5 donations here), for an hour of joy! Or, you can also try from the privacy of your own home and join the many FREE Skype Laughter Yoga Calls, or follow Laughter Yoga Leaders on Youtube. I will say, this is not an experience to practice alone; to obtain the full benefits, eye contact and social connection is needed. So what are you waiting for? Go out in public and “LOL” for real with Laughter Yoga!


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Jessica Brustad

Jessica Brustad is a 500 Hr RYT and Certified Laughter Yoga Leader from the Laughter Yoga International University.She is also a Stand Up Comedian and Improviser and former Member of the National Comedy Theatre's Sunday Company.

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