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Has anyone died laughing?

rectangular gravestone with a smiley face drawn on it

Laughter is good for us. There’s no doubt that laughter, as we who practice laughter yoga do it, has physiological and psychological health benefits. As the saying goes, laughter is good medicine.

And while laughter yoga, the unique combination of simulated laughter exercises and the breath of yoga devised by Indian physician Dr Madan Kataria, encourages protracted belly laughs to achieve those benefits, there are some contraindications.

Laughter yoga contraindications

Like any exercise, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before participating if you have a chronic condition or have had recent surgery: particularly if you have a heart condition or uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Died laughing!

Laughter—not laughter yoga per se, I hasten to add—has very rarely led to death! Thanks to Wikipedia, let me share 5 fascinating cases of death by laughter (probably asphyxiation or heart failure):

  1. Greek painter Zeuxis was commissioned to paint the goddess Aphrodite (goddess of beauty, pleasure, love, and procreation) in the 5th century BC. There was a catch to the commission: the client insisted on being the model and she was anything but lithe and lovely. Zeuxis is said to have died laughing at his humourous portrayal.
  2.  An Italian playwright and satirist is said to have died “laughing too much” in 1556. Bad form if he was reacting to his own work!
  3. While some of the political antics of 2019 make me splutter, Scottish aristocrat Thomas Urquhart’s reaction to hearing that Charles II had taken the throne after his exile from England was extreme. He died laughing in 1660.
  4. My dad loved to watch the British trio, The Goodies, on the tele when I was a kid (and not supposed to be in earshot). A 1975 episode, in which a kilt-clad Scot with bagpipes battled a martial arts master armed with a black pudding, had an English viewer laugh so har—25 minutes continuously—that he keeled over and died of heart failure.
  5. In 2003, a Thai ice-cream salesman started laughing in his sleep, and then stopped breathing. His wife wouldn’t revive him. what had he been dreaming?! 

The breath of laughter yoga

Thankfully, laughter yoga focuses as much on the breath as on laughing. Yes, I have had tears rolling down my cheeks; at times, I feel some muscle soreness in my face and belly. But we always break laughter exercises with breaths. Sessions also end quietly, with slow deep breaths or a guided meditation to ensure the amazing chemistry going on inside our bodies doesn’t go overboard.

Having said that, when my time comes to depart this world, I hope to have a smile on my face… meantime, join me in laughing for wellbeing! Find a laughter club near you, start one yourself or organise a workplace or community playshop.

 (c) 2019 Heather Joy Campbell

Heather Joy Campbell is a certified laughter yoga teacher based in Brisbane, Australia. She runs workplace and community stress-busting and teambuilding workshops using the platform of laughter yoga and trains laughter yoga leaders across Queensland. She hosts a weekly suburban laughter club.