When you’re feeling depressed, stressed, isolated, or pessimistic, you need something to burst you out of the negative mind state and experience life in a new way. We all know yoga can help you feel more relaxed and balanced, but did you know it can make you more joyful too?
Laughter yoga is a synchronized sequence of poses, deep breathing, clapping, and yes: simulated laughter that is a bit like chanting. It may seem weird to make yourself laugh during yoga, but this proven technique has many health benefits for both the body and mind.
Let’s dig into everything you need to know about Laughter Yoga and how you can practice it at home or in a studio.
What is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter yoga (also called hasyayoga) is a yogic tradition that combines laughter exercises with yoga poses, deep breathing, and clapping. The laughing exercises are similar to chanting “ha, ha, ha” as part of guided deep exhalations. Overall, the practice is playful, childlike, and a bit silly, but it drastically increases positivity, mood, and energy.
Indian physician Madan Kataria started the practice in the mid-90s when he noticed that many of his patients weren’t fully healing due to low mood. Since then, him and his wife have organized the practice and laughter yoga has expanded all over the world.
This mindful practice has a surprising range of scientifically proven benefits that compliment a regular yoga practice. Laughter yoga sessions are typically 30-60 minutes long and can be done by yourself, with friends, or with group of strangers in a laughter club.
Laughter yoga integrates 3 main parts:
- Laughter exercises: It may seem strange to think of laughing as an exercise, but the general premise of this form of yoga is that you can actually practice making yourself laugh, which generates the same positive impacts in your body as real spontaneous laughter.
- Breathwork: This form of yoga integrates the same pranayama breathing as all other yoga traditions. The goal of laughter yoga is to lengthen the exhale by laughing it out. This clears your lungs, calms the mind, and moves more positive energy through your body.
- Clapping: While we mostly associate clapping with an applause or a musical beat, clapping in laughter yoga has a surprisingly functional benefit. As you clap your palms and fingers together, it activates over 30 acupressure points in your hands. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, each of these pressure points are linked to a specific organ or body system.
If a laughing yoga class seems unusual, it helps to remember that contorting our bodies into yoga poses (or letting out the occasional relaxed fart) can look pretty silly. This practice liberates you to cathartically laugh as part of your practice, even if it’s forced at first.
Is Laughter Yoga legit?
We’ve all heard that “laughter is the best medicine” and there is a shocking amount of science to back it up. The core concept of Laughter Yoga is that your body doesn’t know the difference between voluntary laughter (“posed” or fake laughing) and real laughter. There are several science-backed health benefits of laughter yoga, including:
- Stress relief: Laughter yoga helps get you out of “fight or flight” mode and activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces stress hormones and improves your sense of calmness. The combination of yoga breathing techniques and laughter stimulate your diaphragm and abdominal muscles for more nervous system relaxation.
- Improved blood flow: During a nice stomach-gripping bout of laughter, your blood vessels naturally dilate, leaving your skin feeling warm and red. Laughter is proven to stimulate blood flow and improve the circulatory system. This is especially beneficial when combined with the blood-stimulating effects of certain yoga poses.
- Improved health for elderly: This 2014 study found that “laughter therapy” can improve general health for older people.
- Immune system benefits: Laughter exercises truly are medicine for your body. Scientists have discovered that laughter boosts immunity and can help your body fight off disease.
- Postive energy: The funny thing about laughter yoga classes is that, after you start fake laughing, you eventually find yourself naturally laughing at the hilarious situation. The laughter begets more laughter and creates an overall positive energy in the room. Your yoga teacher may also include joyful chants and positive affirmations.
What is the basic principle of Laughter Yoga?
Laughter Yoga is based around the core principle that you can mindfully generate laughter just as you would do breathwork or a yoga pose. As you move through asanas (yoga postures), you inhale with deep belly breathing and exhale laughter like a chant (“HA, HA, HA”).
The laughing extends your exhale and gets rid of stagnant air in the lungs while relaxing the body and mind. As the class goes on, the goofy experience usually turns the fake laughing into genuine laughter among students. After a laughter yoga session, many people report feeling extra relaxed, positive, playful, and even more in touch with their inner child.
What happens in Laughter Yoga?
A standard Laughter Yoga class begins with basic yoga warmups and a few icebreaker games to relax participants. The teacher wants to build rapport and help everyone feel more comfortable with the new concept.
Next, comes simple stretching that you may be familiar with in yoga warm-ups. This is when clapping and synchronized movements begin. For example, students may swing their arms from side to side while chanting “ho, ho, ha, ha” and clapping their hands together. The chants coincide with deep breathing. It can feel pretty goofy, but students say that the embarrassment factor goes away fairly quickly since everyone is doing it together.
Next comes improv-like games that integrate clapping, chanting, and diaphragmatic breathing. A Laughter Yoga class is much more group-oriented than a standard yoga class, so you should expect a little bit of movement and high-fiving.
The teacher will continue leading you through movements, breathing techniques, and long exhales with loud “ha, ha, ha” sounds. You may even cheer with your arms up in a “V” shape like the winning stance of athletes. Most of the movements are not traditional yoga poses, but you may find some Warrior poses and sun salutations in the mix. A lot of people find themselves actually giggling and laughing by the end of these exercises. After all, you can’t take yourself too seriously as you exhale HA and flail your arms around.
The end of the Laughter Yoga class has a relaxation period much like Savasana in a regular Hatha class. It includes positive affirmations like “I am resilient, joyful, and relaxed.” The teacher often ends by encouraging students to smile and practice laughing in future stressful situations. You often leave feeling calm and more equipped to handle life’s day-to-day challenges with a more playful, positive outlook.
How long is a Laughter Yoga session?
Most Laughter Yoga classes are 30 to 60 minutes long. While you don’t necessarily laugh the whole time, once you start laughing in the simulated exercises, you often find yourself getting in a good laugh. Experts say you need at least 10 to 15 minutes of laughter to enjoy the full physical and psychological benefits.
Honest Takeaway: Should You Try Laughter Yoga?
Ultimately, a Laughter Yoga session isn’t necessarily a substitute for your regular yoga class. You will leave feeling like you just deep belly laughed for an hour and stretched out a bit, but it’s not much of a workout. However, it gives you an abundance of other benefits. Laughter Yoga is a fun way to reduce stress and ease anxiety without the focused intensity of a standard yoga practice. It is definitely a worthwhile experience with your friends or significant other.