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The yoga that has people laughing

Yoga. The very word of this ancient practice conjures up different ideas and images.

What is universally understood is that yoga involves different techniques including breathing exercises, postures and movement, and meditation that, when practised regularly, bring about health and wellbeing; that yoga is a blend of philosophy, principles and practices that brings harmony and balance into life.

Surely there’s no place for laughter in yoga? Seriously, how can laughter and yoga be said in the same breath?

What is laughter yoga?

Hasyayoga—better known as Laughter yoga— is one of a myriad of yoga derivations, this one developed by Indian physician Dr Madan Kataria and his yogi wife Madhuri in 1995.

Laughter yoga borrows breathing techniques from yoga and blends these with a series of simulated playful laughter exercises, sustained for about 20 minutes, wrapped up with a grounded meditation.

Simulated laughter: that’s another word for fake, right? Does fake work? And what about jokes: is laughter yoga like a group stand-up comedy session?

To the first question, yes, ‘simulated’ laughter is ‘fake’. Practitioners prefer to call it voluntary or unconditional. The laughter in laughter yoga is ‘unconditional’ because jokes aren’t involved. It has nothing to do with humour or comedy. (That also means a laughter yoga session is nothing like open mic night at the local hotel!) We allow  ourselves to laugh, loud. 

That’s not a societal norm. But it’s oh so good to do.

Don’t you need to be in the mood?

No! That’s only when you think of laughing as a response to something good or funny. I lift weights when I don’t want to because I can. Similarly, I laugh when I may not feel like it (but actually need to) because I can!

Does fake work?

A man sitting down surrounded by people in a room all cracking up laughing

While research indicates the brain can tell the difference between real and fake laughter, if the ‘fake’ laughter is willing—not begrudgingly or embarrassed—the brain can be tricked. What’s more, in group sessions, because of its contagious nature, laughter soon becomes real as participants react to one another’s mirth.

But is laughter yoga still really yoga?

Just as with other forms of yoga—from hatha to Bikram—laughter yoga creates a union between the body, breath and mind.

Laughter yoga shares many of the same health benefits.

Surprisingly perhaps, laughter yoga is also meditative—setting off brainwave patterns like those generated when people practise the quieter, more contemplative styles of yoga.

Why not try laughter yoga in person at a community-based free or low-cost laughter club or online.

Just watch out. Aside from being contagious, the glorious free feeling that comes with laughter can be addictive!

(c) Heather Joy Campbell 2021

Founder of The Happydemic, Heather Joy Campbell is a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher, living in Brisbane, Australia. Seeking to spread wellbeing through laughter, seriously, Heather Joy runs workplace and organisational workshops and seminars on laughter for wellbeing, trains laughter yoga leaders, and, as a community giveback, runs a weekly suburban laughter club.