Laughter Yoga – also known as laughing yoga or hasyayoga – is more than just a bit of fun although it is certainly that: there’s a bounty of health benefits.
This process that enables us to laugh without jokes or humour is very much a mind-body-spirit practice, involving a playful combination of gentle stretches, clapping, chanting, belly laughter and deep slow breaths, typically wrapped up with a guided meditation.
Laughter Yoga works on the premise that the brain doesn’t differentiate whether a laugh is ‘intentional’ or a response to something funny or humourous when a person participates willingly.
Modern science increasingly backs the saying that laughter is good medicine.
This month marks 28 years since Dr Madan Kataria, a physician, and his wife Madhuri, a yoga teacher, met with a few friends in a park in Mumbai to laugh for – as Dr K – would say ‘no reason’. Just to laugh.
We who practise Laughter Yoga fully understand we are laughing for many good reasons, to do with health and happiness. Let’s explore what science now says…
Is Laughter Yoga really beneficial?
While some benefits can be felt straight away – you are likely to ‘feel good’ – the true benefits come with repeated practice, as with any exercise. For that’s what Laughter Yoga is.
Let’s start with physical and mental health benefits.
Physical health benefits
- Laughter yoga is a light cardio exercise. It enables us to sustain laughter longer than a typical social titter or chortle. Stanford University found that 10 minutes of joyous sustained belly laughter was the cardio equivalent of 30 minutes on a rowing machine!
- Researchers in Germany determined that Laughter Yoga’s belly laughs activate trunk muscles, particularly internal oblique muscles, more effectively than abdominal crunches. While that’s not to say laughter alone will give fab abs, researchers are looking further at the practice for improving neuromuscular patterns of spine stability for those with limited movement.
- Laughter Yoga is good for heart health. Indeed University of Maryland Medical Centre cardiology researcher Dr Michael Miller has been known to prescribe 15 minutes of laughter a day for good heart health! Why? As well as being a light cardio (refer #1), laughter expands the inner lining of blood vessels (the endothelium), promoting circulation.
- Blood pressure can improve. When in the throes of a Laughter Yoga session, blood pressure invariably rises only to drop back to its baseline afterwards.
- Laughter Yoga helps wind back key stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system, providing cues to the body to slow down and relax. (Note, feeling relaxed and destressed is a common ‘immediate’ feeling that only improves with repetition).
- Laughter Yoga can help boost the immune system, the body’s natural defence mechanism, by increasing the body’s T cells and immunoglobulins.
- Our lungs get a great workout with Laughter Yoga. Compared to a normal exhalation, we push out 20% more stale old air, flushing our body with more oxygen-rich air.
- More oxygen can improve our concentration and attention (boosting productivity).
- Short-term memory can improve. This is largely due to laughter winding back stress hormones that impair our ability to learn and remember.
- Laughter Yoga can help control diabetes. Slovenian and Japanese researchers have found laughter can lower blood glucose in people with Type 2 diabetes. Whether from East or West, they say daily laughter is best!
- Laughter Yoga helps release endorphin, our natural painkiller. Numerous scientific studies have concluded that pain threshold significantly increase when we laugh.
- Sustained laughter can aid sleep too. In his memoir, Anatomy of an Illness, Norman Cousins (who suffered from a painful spinal condition) 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 2 hours of pain-free sleep.
- Iranian medical researchers have gone so far as to suggest ‘laughter rooms’ and trained laughter yoga leaders on-site in hospitals because of the benefits found for cancer patients.
- Regular laugher 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. 😊 )
- Preliminary research in Japan has found some improved oral motor function for older people living with dementia.
Are there mental health benefits to Laughter Yoga?
16. Laughter Yoga is a proven therapeutic tool for depression.
17. As a mindfulness practice, Laughter Yoga is proven to help allay worries, fears and anxiety.
18. Laughter Yoga helps to build resilience, to handle life’s challenges more positively.
19. As well as being a coping tool, in Rwanda, Laughter Yoga is used to build trust between former warring ethnic groups.
Are there social health benefits to laughter yoga?
The measurable benefits of Laughter Yoga continue when we include social and financial wellbeing in the list of health benefits.
20. Laughter Yoga helps build self-confidence. We learn to take ourselves less seriously.
21. Given that laughter is a universal language, there are no language barriers.
22. Following on from that, because we don’t rely on humour to laugh, we overcome cultural barriers. No wonder Laughter Yoga thrives whether done in Qatar or Italy, India or Venezuela, Vietnam or Australia (and many nations in between)!
23. Laughter Yoga encourages collaboration. 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.
24. A laugh shared connects people, dissolving loneliness and social isolation.
25. Laughter Yoga is adaptable and accessible. Laughter yoga is for all ages and abilities.
26. COVID-19 played a significant advantage in geographic accessibility for participants as we Laughter Yoga facilitators were forced online. Virtual clubs overcome geographic distances. Many remain, while physical laughter clubs return too.
27. Laughter clubs – the grassroot hubs of joy in which laughter leaders voluntarily give back to community – are free or low cost. (NB. Organisations may be asked to pay a fee for service to allow their participants to access this joyful feel-good exercise.)
28. And yes, laughter yoga is FUN. At a time when a growing number of Australians are ditching exercise and becoming inactive, it’s time to consider laughter yoga as a means of growing health, happiness and connection.
(c) 2023 HeatherJoy Campbell
Former health journalist turned laughter wellbeing practitioner HeatherJoy Campbell is a professional laughter yoga teacher/trainer in Queensland, Australia, who works with neighbourhood communities, aged care and workplaces.