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Laughter yoga: is it laughter therapy?

Laughter is the best medicine, right? As a professional laughter wellbeing facilitator and certified laughter yoga teacher, I’m often asked: Do you deliver laughter therapy?

My answer isn’t a straight ‘yes’ or  ‘no’ and here’s why.

By definition, ‘therapy’ is any treatment intended to relieve (or heal) a disorder.

Something that is ‘therapeutic’ can be in the form of a treatment, an exercise (or a drug).

‘therapeutic exercise’ can improve symptoms and quality of life.

What do you do in laughter yoga?

Laughter yoga is a process that enables us to laugh without use of comedy or jokes. It’s a physical activity—a light cardio workout even—developed by a doctor in India.

Laughter yoga combines gentle stretches, clapping and chanting, and playful movement with intentional laughter.

Laughter yoga promotes breathing activities in-between these laughter exercises. When you deepen your breath, you calm both your body and mind.

What’s more, when you laugh out loud, the mechanics of laughing forces more stale air out of your lungs, requiring greater replenishment.

The brain doesn’t differentiate whether a laugh is intentional (some may want to call it ‘fake’) or natural. When you are willingly participating, the release of feel-good chemicals is the same.

Does laughter yoga have any real health benefits?

Some benefits of laughter yoga can be felt in the first session: you may feel uplifted or peaceful. I liken it to that ‘holiday feeling’. Lasting benefits come, as with any exercise or therapeutic activity: from repeated practice.

Laughter yoga is an effective way to banish blues, allay anxiety, defuse anger, soothe stress and generally refocus thinking. I liken that to a positivity switch that’s flicked on. It’s also a form of mindfulness. When you are laughing, you are in the ‘now’, not stewing about the past or agonising about the future.

Laughter yoga’s other health-giving benefits include strengthening the immune system and reducing pain. Read more about laughter yoga health benefits.

So laughter yoga is only for people who are sick or mentally unwell?

Sure, you don’t need to be in the mood to do laughter yoga and it may be helpful for people experiencing anxiety, or depression, pain and some physical health disorders, but it’s certainly not restricted in its application..

Laughter yoga is for all ages, and all abilities— from kindergarten kiddies throughout adulthood to the frail aged. Indeed many people use laughter yoga as a preventive strategy to strengthen their mental and physical wellbeing.

UK researcher Anna Hatchard found regular laughter yoga participants were more aware of their overall health, made changes to reflect healthier living and felt better equipped to cope with the ups and downs of life… and we could all do with that ability given COVID-19, right? Little wonder that laughter yoga online has become a sought-after activity since mid-2020.

So, is laughter yoga therapy?

You ask me again whether I deliver ‘laughter therapy’… I am not an allied health professional, trained or registered with AHPRA, so technically I am not a therapist. 

The experience of what’s delivered in a laughter yoga session, while personal, is invariably joyful, playful and uplifting. Many say it’s ‘therapeutic’.

Ultimately, only you can decide if laughter yoga is truly therapeutic and whether a session, for you, is laughter therapy: I suggest you try a DOSE of natural laughter wellbeing and make your own mind up.

Author HeatherJoy Campbell is a professional facilitator of laughter wellbeing delivered in workplaces, aged care centres and community groups in Brisbane, Australia, and online. A global ambassador of laughter yoga, she trains others in the practice, spreading a happydemic of wellbeing throughout Queensland.