How does laughing feel?
How do you feel after a really good ‘belly’ laugh? Feels great, doesn’t it?
Wouldn’t it be beneficial to create that feeling whenever you liked?
We often think that laughter is something that just happens to us, when actually it is something we can create!
Watch something funny on television, YouTube or social media.
Watch a child or animal playing.
Reminisce on a funny incident or a happy memory.
Listen to a funny radio show.
Go to see a stand-up comedian, comedy performance or, God forbid, even meet your friends!
There is another option… Laughter Yoga!
What is laughter yoga?
Laughter Yoga is a combination of laughter exercises intertwined with deep breathing exercises.
Think about laughing for a second… do you breathe in or out when you laugh? I’m sure you just laughed to test this!
As you breathe out when you laugh, you expel stale air from your lungs (forcibly so with a “belly laugh”). When your lungs feel empty, you take a sharp intake of breath to replenish your lungs with ‘fresh’ air.
Breathing exercises between bouts of laughter helps to normalise breathing and bring the body into an even more relaxed state.
Laughter Yoga also includes energy boosting exercises such as hand claps and chanting but not in a serious cult-like manner, we simply chant ‘ho, ho, ha, ha, ha’ or other fun mantras.
There is method to our madness! If you have ever had a fit of the giggles, you might have experienced how your face muscles can literally hurt from the laughter. The ‘Ho’ and ‘Ha’ sounds, in our chants, help to warm up our facial muscles for laughing. Sometimes we even include a ‘He’ sound!
Practice these sounds yourself and notice how they stretch your facial muscles.
Why does laughter yoga help with your health?
During a Laughter Yoga session, you will take part in many different laughing and breathing exercises, making you feel energised and healthy. Without going into the science, it’s genuinely a satisfying feeling. Even if your smile at yourself in the mirror – it makes you feel good!
Laughter Yoga also helps to connect people. Remember how good it feels to share a smile and a laugh with a stranger? When you laugh with them, the connection gets deeper – a shared pleasurable experience that creates friendships and brings out the child in you!
Now for a little bit of science…
When you laugh the feeling intensifies, particularly if done with willingness. Your brain releases endorphins (“happy hormones”), putting you in a good mood that can stay with you all day.
Other neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin – are also released. Such brain chemicals counteract the stress hormone cortisol, thereby providing relief from stress and anxiety.
These chemicals also work with your body’s internal army of T Cells that destroy foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
Practice laughter regularly!
To realise the ongoing benefits, it is recommended that your laugh for at least 10-minutes per day.
You can do this in the bathroom, instead of, or as well as, singing. You can do it in the car on your way to work. You can arrange 10 minutes per day to laugh with a friend, in person or over the phone.
Doing this regularly will bring about a positive change to your life and enable you to find the joy in the simplest of things.
Cultivating regular laughter into your daily routine will help you overcome unexpected tragedies. Now, I’m not saying everything can be laughed off; however, being able to laugh in any situation will help you to find a positive way forward.
It’s well known that comedians are sent out to perform for troops who are in the midst of war and soldiers themselves often utilise humour as a technique to progress in tough times.
Some of the benefits are also accessible by just pretending to laugh! Besides, once sustained, laughter often becomes real anyway! And we all know how contagious it is once someone starts!
Once you practice, you will find more opportunities to laugh and giggle! Having locked my keys in the boot of my car the other day, I can definitely say that being able to laugh at my own stupidity helped!
Resources for people to use and research
LaughterYoga.org is an international website for Laughter Yoga which was set up by Dr Madan Kataria, the founder of the Laughter Yoga Movement. He started in 1995 with just 5 people in a park in Mumbai, India.
On this website you can find Skype laughter clubs. You can join a call for around 15-minutes and laugh with people from all around the world. Initially they are strangers, but you quickly develop laughter friendship groups!
If you’re interested to see what a Skype laughter train is, take a look at this YouTube clip (spoiler alert – It will make you laugh!):
Laughter Association UK – this is the association for laughter professionals in the UK.
There are many Facebook pages for Laughter Yoga. One of my favourites is Dave Berman’s. Dave is an American guy who has posted laughter videos on Facebook and YouTube since January 2016. At the time of writing this he has completed over 950 daily videos. He also gives his viewers the opportunity to laugh with him or his guest presenters.
My laughter yoga story by Merrie Maggie Thompson
The first time I encountered Laughter Yoga was about 9 years ago when I was working for a charity, helping older people. I was looking for an activity to help Gentle Exercise Tutors add some variety to their sessions.
One of my colleagues suggested a Laughter Yoga workshop which I attended and facilitated. By the end of the day I was completely hooked!
Naturally, I’ve always had a happy-go-lucky attitude and when I was given the freedom to act as childish as I wished, a new sense of empowerment came over me! I now look back at that workshop as my “light-bulb moment” and I am forever grateful to the teacher who took the class that day.
I trained to become a Laughter Yoga Leader in 2010 and set up my first Laughter Yoga Club in Wordsley, Stourbridge in 2011 …. Which is still going!
In 2013, I extended my training to become a teacher and have been delivering Certified Laughter Yoga Leader training programmes for the last 4 years.
It’s an incredible feeling to give something back to communities and, in particular, to those who train with me; especially as I know they’re going to spread the joy of laughter throughout their towns and cities.
Over the years, I have delivered Laughter Yoga to Rainbows, boys brigades, Brownies, Alzheimer groups, dementia groups, the police, women’s institutes and at health & wellness events. I also deliver at the four Laughter Clubs I have in the West Midlands and Malvern.
At many of these sessions, I ask the participants to complete a ‘how do you feel’ questionnaire to identify how people feel before and after a session. They give each feeling a grade from 1 to 10 (ten being the best).
The difference, even with a short half-hour session, is incredible. People feel more relaxed, energised, less stressed and more connected to the other people in the room.
For a graphical representation of my findings in 2017 and so far in 2018, click here.
Don’t defy nature – Laugh!
Laughter is a natural action that we are all practically born with. We learn to smile and laugh within the first few weeks of being born as we watch our parents, family members and friends smile and laugh along with us.
We learn to smile and laugh before we learn any language. It’s universal. The language of smiles and laughter can be understood in any part of the world. Even some mammals, such as primates and rats laugh!
To see me in action, with The Black Country Buddhas, check out this video from My Home Vitality’s YouTube channel. As you will see, it’s smiles all round! 😂