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25 ways laughter yoga benefits body, mind and spirits

seven people lay in circle, heads together, laughing

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of laughter yoga. From its beginnings in a Mumbai park with a handful of people, it’s now practiced in more than 100 countries.

What is laughter yoga?

Laughter yoga has nothing to do with jokes and it doesn’t involve holding traditional yoga poses either. It has everything to do with breathing better and is a mind/body/spirit practice.  Laughter yoga involves a playful combination of gentle stretches, clapping, chanting, laughter exercises and deep slow breaths, typically wrapping up with a relaxation technique.

The brain doesn’t differentiate whether a laugh is intentional (‘fake’) or natural when the person laughing participates willingly.

Laughter yoga is hugely enjoyable but there’s so much more going on than ‘just a bit of fun’.

What are the real health benefits of laughter yoga?

There are at least 25 benefits of laughter yoga. Most of the ones I’ve included are health benefits – physical and mental health – supported by evidence-based research.  I’ve added some financial and social benefits that are very real too.

While some benefits can be felt instantaneously, as with any exercise, the true benefits are reaped through repeated practice.

Let’s start with physical health benefits.

  1. Laughter boosts the immune system, the body’s natural defence mechanism, by increasing the body’s T cells and immunoglobulins.
  2. Laughter yoga is good for heart health. University of Maryland School of Medicine research has shown laughter helps blood vessels flow better.
  3. Laughter yoga is a light cardio exercise. It enables us to sustain laughter longer than your typical titter or chortle. Stanford University found that 10 minutes of joyous sustained laughter was the cardio equivalent of 30 minutes on a rowing machine!
  4. Laughter can improve sleep. In his memoir, Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins, diagnosed with the painful spine condition ankylosing spondylitis, found that a diet of comedies, like Marx Brothers films and episodes of Candid Camera, helped him feel better and that 10 minutes of laughter allowed him two hours of pain-free sleep.
  5.  Laughter yoga helps release a natural painkiller. A number of scientific studies have concluded that pain thresholds significantly increase when you laugh.
  6.  When the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged – and this happens through deep diaphragmatic breathing (laughter included)—the body receives signals to slow down and destress. From this premise, many other benefits flow…
  7. Blood pressure can be lowered.
  8. Laughter yoga can help control diabetes. Japanese researchers found laughter could lower blood glucose in people with Type 2 diabetes. Head investigator Dr Keiko Hayashi recommended a daily dose.
  9. Laughter yoga flushes the body with oxygen. We breathe more deeply, we exhale longer, and we don’t even realise it’s happening!
  10.  More oxygen can improve our concentration and attention.
  11. Short-term memory improves by winding back the stress hormones that impair our ability to learn and remember.
  12. Regular laughter tones facial muscles. It’s like a scalpel-free facelift! (True. My remedial masseuse has commented on my well-toned cheeks, and she’s not talking about all those squats I do in the gym. )

What are mental health benefits of laughter yoga?

Laughter yoga is so much more than a one-off feel-good activity. Yes that one time you spend doing laughter yoga exercises at work or at a laughter club or at a conference can leave you feeling like you’ve just had an instant vacation, but again, it’s the continued practice that really sees mental health benefits.

13. Laughter yoga is a proven therapeutic tool for depression.

14. Laughter yoga is proven to help allay worries, fears and anxiety.

15. Laughter yoga helps to build resilience, to handle life’s challenges more positively.

16. As well as being a coping tool, in Rwanda, laughter yoga is used to build trust between former warring ethnic groups.

Are there social or interpersonal benefits to laughter yoga?

Laughter yoga delivers social and interpersonal benefits too. I see the difference made in this realm at laughter club, in workplaces and at aged care residences where I deliver regular sessions.

17. Laughter yoga breaks down interpersonal barriers, fast, encouraging connection and collaboration.

18. Hand in hand with dealing with life’s challenges more positively, the playfulness of laughter yoga can encourage us to think more creatively, particularly when needing to problem-solve.

19. Laughter yoga builds self-confidence. We can take ourselves less seriously.

20. Laughter yoga harnesses laughter as a physical act rather than an intellectual one. You don’t need to remember or understand punchlines or jokes. There’s no cultural barrier.

21. Laughter clubs are free or very low cost. BONUS.

22. Still on affordability, you don’t need to spend money on special equipment or clothes to do laughter yoga.

23. Laughter is a universal language. There’s no language barrier.

24. A laugh shared connects people, dissolving loneliness.

25. Laughter yoga is adaptable and accessible. The exercises are for all ages and abilities.

How to find  a laughter yoga session

Community-based laughter clubs are run by volunteers and are usually free or very low cost. HeatherJoy provides one as a community service in her neighbourhood. Find locations and times of Queensland community laughter sessions here.  For other Australian states and territories, check out Laughter Yoga Australia’s web page.

If you’d love to have a laughter club in your town and don’t, you could train as a leader and set a club up. Read what’s involved in training.

Congratulations to Laughter Yoga’s founders Dr Madan Kataria and Madhuri Kataria for introducing this joyous uplifting form of yoga way back in 1995.  The happydemic that has spread across the world does indeed promote health, peace and joy.

(c) 2020 Heather Joy Campbell

HeatherJoy Campbell is Queensland’s leading trainer and facilitator of laughter wellbeing workshops, using the platform of laughter yoga, in workplaces, communities and aged care. She runs a weekly laughter club in her neighbourhood in Brisbane and delights in training ‘laughter yoga leaders‘. 

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