Posted May 1, 2011on:
“When you laugh, you change and when you change, the whole world changes around you.” Dr. Madan KatariaHappy World Laughter Day! What? You’ve never heard of World Laughter Day? World Laughter Day is celebrated annually on the first Sunday of May. Being light and healthy is about more than food and exercise. Good health encompasses the body, mind, and spirit. Experiencing joy is an integral aspect of being healthy. Our capacity for joy seems to diminish as the pace of modern life escalates. We chronically schedule ourselves and our children for activities unintentionally increasing the amount of stress in our lives. Though the Internet enhances our lives in a multitude of ways, it also chews up our time and surreptitiously prevents us from forming strong social bonds with others. How many times have you sat down with the intention of spending a couple of minutes on the Internet only to realize that you’ve lost hours? With the number of distractions in our lives, we sometimes sense that something is missing. We live in a constant state of stress not realizing that our breathing has become chronically shallow. Suddenly, we wake up one day and wonder where the joy in our lives has gone. Unlike children who love to laugh for no reason, laughter is not high on our priority lists. Young children have a connection to their intrinsic nature and are filled with joy. Because they lack the inhibitions adults have developed, laughter comes naturally to them. They delight in being silly, and their unrestrained laughter is contagious.
Laughter Yoga is a unique concept where a group of people get together to laugh for no reason. It humbly started in a Mumbai park in 1995 when an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria, persuaded 4 people to join him in laughing to reap the health benefits. The group quickly grew to over 50 people who stood in a circle and told jokes or funny stories to invoke laughter; however, they quickly ran out of funny material. Because Dr. Kataria’s research indicated that the body cannot distinguish between artificial and real laughter, he persuaded the group to try acting out laughter with him, and Laughter Yoga was born. It spread to the United States in 2004, and today there are over 6,000 Laughter Yoga Clubs in 65 countries around the world.
After hearing about Laughter Yoga, I wanted to try it. Fortunately, I was able to locate a local club, and my husband agreed to try it with me. I’m an introvert and feel uncomfortable doing almost anything with people I don’t know. I was, however, intrigued by the idea and wanted to check it out. On the other hand, my husband is a cheerful, outgoing guy with a hearty laugh so he was likely to be a natural at it. We had been advised in advance to bring water because laughter is dehydrating. We were greeted by the Let’s Laugh Today leaders, Linda and Bill Hamaker, when we arrived. As I sat waiting for the session to begin, I looked around at the people seated in the circle of chairs and unintentionally formed preconceived ideas about each of them as most of us tend to do when we meet strangers.
The night started out innocently enough with each of us saying our first name and a stressful event from our day. The person then laughed and the entire group laughed with him/her. Linda and Bill reviewed the basics and suggested that newcomers try Laughter Yoga three times before deciding if they like it or not. Because the intent is to disengage the conscious mind, there is no talking during Laughter Yoga with the exception of the leaders’ instructions. It is simply laughing with the playfulness reminiscent of a child. We then proceeded to warm up by taking some deep breaths. The yogic aspect of Laughter Yoga is the breathing. When we laugh, we are creating more oxygen in the body and the brain, which leads to increased health and energy. It is a scientifically-proven fact that the body cannot tell the difference between a fake laugh and a genuine laugh. Therefore, fake laughter was okay and encouraged because it provided the same physiological and psychological benefits as real laughter. Fueled by eye contact with others in the group and acting completely silly, the laughter typically becomes real.
When each laughter exercise started, we randomly moved around laughing and making eye contact with others in the group. Laughter Yoga can also be done sitting, and we were reminded to interact with participants who had chosen to remain seated for various reasons. Some of the exercises we did included cell phone laughter where we pretended we were talking on a cell phone while laughing, evil laugher, and lion laughter. To signal the end of an exercise, the leaders initiated a chant by rhythmically clapping in a 1-2, 1-2-3 rhythm while simultaneously chanting the belly laugh HO-HO, HA-HA-HA. The group quickly joined in the chant thus promoting a feeling of unity. The HO-HO, HA-HA-HA chant was my favorite part, quite possibly because it signaled the end of an exercise. By clapping with extended, full finger-to-finger and palm-to-palm contact, we were stimulating the acupressure points in our hands and increasing our energy levels. To finalize the exercise we cheered, “Very Good, Very Good, Yay!” and wildly waved our arms in the air above our heads. To help flush out our lungs deep breathing was interspersed between the laughter exercises
Honestly, once we started I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into and felt like I had been catapulted out of my comfort zone into another galaxy full of laughing aliens. I felt really silly as I fake laughed my way through the session, but I also noticed that my inhibitions were slowly melting away. The positive energy and vitality created by a group of people laughing together are palpable. Later in the session we did a gibberish exercise. Gibberish is conversing in a non-existent language complete with emotions and hand gestures, similar to mimicking children learning to speak. For example, “Garf belie fan par.” means absolutely nothing. A great example of gibberish is the popular You Tube Video of the twin baby boys having a conversation. During the gibberish exercise it was astounding to see how convincing people looked and sounded in a nonsensical conversation.
The evening concluded with a laughter meditation that consisted of free-flowing laughter meant to keep us fully present in the moment. Most of us laid on blankets on the floor, but sitting in a chair was also an option. The meditation started with complete silence. Laughter then spontaneously began to flow and permeate the air building to a crescendo then dying down. For 10-15 minutes there was an ebb and flow of laughter. At a subsequent session we sat with our eyes closed in chairs closely arranged in a random cluster for the meditation. This is my favorite arrangement because I love feeling enveloped by the rippling vibrations and energy generated by the laughter.
As the session ended, I was reluctant to try Laughter Yoga again; however, I remembered Linda’s comment about trying it three times before coming to a conclusion. My husband seemed to enjoy it. I also noticed that as the night progressed, my preconceived notions of the others in the group evaporated as we shared the common bond of laughter and a sense of camaraderie was created.
We continued to go to the club, which meets monthly. Then one day I received an e-mail about a weekend of Certified Laughter Yoga Leader Training with Linda and Bill. I forwarded the e-mail to my husband as a joke, but the joke was on me. I was astonished when he replied that we should do it; consequently, we signed up. As the date edged closer, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into and was apprehensive about the upcoming weekend. The Hamakers warmly welcomed all 15 students and created a safe and comfortable environment that facilitated the learning process. The students were wonderful and came to the training for different reasons. Each of them brought a unique and interesting perspective that was shared with the group and enhanced the experience. It didn’t take long for a sense of friendship to form. Linda and Bill covered all the aspects of Laughter Yoga from the hilarious parts to the serious parts and also taught us how to personalize the exercises. Personalizing the exercises enhanced my comfort level and allowed me to uniquely express myself. At the end of the first day I was looking forward to the next day. By the end of the weekend, I felt comfortable leading exercises and was grateful for the laughter I had shared with this wonderful group of people. The training left us feeling joyful, and we are now Certified Laughter Yoga Leaders.
Laughter Yoga is an activity that can be done by anyone and can enhance the quality of your life. Connecting with other people is an important aspect of our health, and laughter allows us to quickly connect with complete strangers. Because the exercises can be done in a chair, the elderly and people with physical disabilities can also participate. Many exercises can be designed to help build self-esteem in children. Laughing promotes circulation to the digestive and lymphatic systems and alleviates stress. It helps dislodge energy blockages in the body and allows release of emotional blockages. We are all familiar with the Mind-Body connection where the voices in our heads are leading us by constantly telling us what to do and often chastising us. Laughter Yoga is an opportunity to foster the Body-Mind Connection and let the body lead the mind to feeling good. The body starts laughing, and eventually the mind follows provoking feelings of happiness and joy. To attain the health benefits of laughing it must be done continuously for 10-15 Minutes with a loud and deep belly laugh. A Laughter Yoga session lasts for an hour or less. Time is a valuable commodity in our lives, and we are all trying to optimize what little time we have. Committing to invest an hour of your precious time in attending a Laughter Yoga session is something easy and wonderful you can do for yourself.
Dr. Kataria is a visionary intent on elevating the consciousness of the globe by promoting world peace through laughter. Upon first hearing his vision, it may sound ambitious. Connecting people with one another at heart level without judgment is his goal. Knowing that he started Laughter Yoga with 4 other people in a park in India and it has now spread to over 65 countries worldwide fills me with hope and optimism that his vision is attainable and inspires me to help cultivate it.
I invite you to consider trying Laughter Yoga at least three times. If you’re the least bit intrigued, I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and try something for the benefit of your health and well-being. It could ultimately change your life! I suspect that at the conclusion of the session, you will feel refreshed and uplifted. Check out the following websites for additional information:
www.letslaughtoday.com is located in Southeastern Massachusetts and meets monthly in Franklin and Westwood.
www.capecodlaughteryoga.com meets weekly in Falmouth – a fun thing to try when vacationing on Cape Cod!
www.laughteryogaamerica.com for worldwide listings.
www.laughteryoga.org for Dr. Madan Kataria’s site.
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