What is laughter yoga?

We all need to be able to smile right now...

We all need to be able to smile right now... - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Looking for a fun-filled pastime? Laughter yoga, which is celebrating its 25th birthday in 2020, might just be for you

Laughter yoga can be done in groups - and it's easy to socially distance yourselves too

Laughter yoga can be done in groups - and it's easy to socially distance yourselves too - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Are you aware of the power of laughter? Last year, the University of Derby reported on a new study showing its importance in boosting wellbeing. University researchers developed a smartphone concept named ‘the Laughie’, whereby users record themselves laughing for a minute with their smartphone and are then able to play the recording back to prompt laughter whenever they have time. The concept has been shown to significantly improve individuals’ overall wellbeing by encouraging them to laugh.

‘Previous studies have suggested laughter has several physical, psychological and social benefits, including decreasing stress hormones, boosting the immune system, reducing pain, improving mood and increasing resilience,’ the university said. ‘The psychological and physiological effects of laughter can increase optimism, energy and cognitive function while decreasing anxiety, stress, loneliness, depression and tension.’

One person certainly aware of laughter’s potential is Dr Madan Kataria, a medical professional from India. In March 1995, he started a ‘Laughter Club’ in a park in Mumbai. The move laid the foundations for the creation of laughter yoga, an exercise programme for health and wellbeing that combines laughter exercises with yoga breathing — and which is now practised across the world.

Laughter yoga sees laughter initiated as an exercise, but Dr Kataria argues that with ‘childlike playfulness’ and eye contact, it soon becomes genuine and contagious. The medical professional says that the concept of yoga of this sort is based upon scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between false and genuine laughter — individuals get the same psychological and physiological benefits. Laughter yoga enables laughter for all, according to Dr Kataria: by doing it, anyone is able to laugh for no reason, without depending upon comedy, humour or jokes.

As for the consequences? The doctor says laughter yoga results in good mood and increased laughter, reduces stress, helps create a positive mental attitude and even strengthens the immune system. It also makes you feel more energetic, helps you connect with others quickly and improves relationships. Since the birth of laughter yoga, other practices like laughter therapy and laughter wellness have even developed.

Jo-Dee Walmsley is CEO of Simply Laughter Worldwide and listed in Laughter Association UK’s Members Directory as a laughter yoga leader and teacher. Laughing, she says, is a great way to alter how you’re feeling. ‘The one thing that laughter has done is it’s taught me to look for positives rather than fall into the negatives,’ she says, adding: ‘Once you’re a seasoned laugher like me [and] you can just start laughing, you’ll see [that] within five minutes, you can change your mood.’

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Laughter yoga, Jo-Dee says, is about laughing on purpose. ‘When you’re listening to jokes or something like that, it’s intermittent laughter — you laugh here and there — but when you choose to laugh as an exercise for a solid 15, 20 minutes, which is when you get the benefits, it is great.’

Laughter yoga is usually undertaken in a group, and a map of Laughter Clubs in the UK can be found on the Laughter Association UK website. However, if you’re looking to undertake laughter yoga alone or at home, there are online tools as well as telephone laughter available. Dr Kataria’s website, has resources like a freely-downloadable guide to laughter yoga, while his Facebook account and YouTube channel have laughter yoga videos. Jo-Dee encourages people to try and develop a laughter routine. Watching happy films or laughing with friends or family is good for you, she notes, and you can also laugh along with videos online. After all, we all need a little bit of cheer right now.