Laughter is truly the best medicine.
You would be lying if you said you’d never heard of yoga, and you may even know of its many off shoots - like Bikram Yoga (the one where you sweat buckets in an artificially heated room) or Restorative Yoga (where you use blankets and props to do yoga poses minus exerting any effort).
But have you heard of Laughter Yoga?
Is Laughter the Best Medicine?
The first time I had ever heard of it was the beginning of this year, when I stumbled upon it completely by accident. Early one Saturday morning, I loaded a couple of friends into my car and made our way to a free yoga class at Scarborough beach- courtesy of the Fringe World festival.
Loaded up with our foam mats and clad in Lycra workout gear, we took our place amongst a hundred or so others, all ready for a run of the mill yoga class. It was then that our instructor explained that what we would be doing instead was Laughter Yoga.
I’ll admit, I was skeptical as we all looked around at each other perplexed. Instead of stretching into a downward dog or a salute to the sun pose, we were asked to clap along to a repeated mantra of ‘ho, ho, ha ha ha’ and use our imagination to act out ‘scenarios’ such as pretending to pop bubbles of laughter.
At first I was hesitant, as I thought ‘I look silly’, ‘those people over there are going to judge me’, ‘this is ridiculous’, but after a couple of minutes I realised, ‘we are ALL doing this, we ALL look silly!’
Escape from the Daily Grind
That in essence, is the beauty of it! There were people of all ages and genders embracing it, running around holding each-others hands, jumping up and down saying ‘yay, yay, yay!’ and it was freeing. We were able to let go of our seriousness and revert back to the lovely playfulness we had as carefree children. It allowed us to connect with complete strangers, and the fake laughing soon became genuine.
It was an escape from the daily grind, and the laughter and silliness left me feeling lighter and happier. It got me thinking about all of the groups within our society who could especially benefit from Laughter Yoga, as well as the everyday Joe. I was interested in finding out more, which led me to talk to the very intelligent and extremely wonderful Janni Goss- or as she is also known, The Laughter Lady.
Trained in Laughter Yoga by Madan Kataria himself (the man who started it all back in 1995), Janni has been practising and leading Laugher Yoga for 16 years. As well as being an ambassador for Laughter Yoga, Janni is also a professional conference speaker and wellbeing educator, who was formerly a lecturer in paediatrics in the school of physiotherapy.
Janni tells me that the mantra ‘ho, ho, ha ha ha’ uses the same muscles than if you were actually laughing. This tricks your brain into thinking you really are, and causes it to release a dose of happy chemicals. These being; dopamine- the pleasure chemical, oxytocin- the love or ‘cuddle’ chemical, serotonin – the mood chemical, and endorphins- which makes you feel good and relieves pain.
On top of your body’s chemical response giving you a dose of the goods, the deep breathing and laughter helps to bring more oxygen into the body, awakening your brain to help you feel more alert.
Janni says that although you begin with intentional laughter, it eventually becomes genuine and contagious in a group. She says it is all about being enthusiastic, ‘switching on your laughter and having a good laugh’. She finds that the people who have an interesting or unusual laugh trigger her laughter, which at the end of the day is very therapeutic.
She understands how participating in laughter yoga ‘cold’ can be a little bit ‘confronting and inhibiting because you are asked to be playful when you might not be in that space’. She says that the key is to lead people in by helping them to trust the process so they feel more at ease.
Dr Kataria originally created Laughter Yoga as a way to reconnect to the playfulness we had as children, allowing us to release the seriousness and stress that comes with being an adult. It is also about connecting people and communities- regardless of the differences between participants- as we all laugh in the same language. It is about contributing to good health and peace in the world with a good dose of laughter.
As we lead such busy, time poor lives, we are constantly stressed. Whether this is stress from our jobs, our studies, or spending hours stuck in traffic on our daily commute, it is important to find an appropriate and healthy strategy to help us cope. A bottle of wine at the end of the day is not one of them (unfortunately), but Laughter Yoga certainly is! But why is this important?
Janni informs me that cortisol is a stress hormone your body releases as part of its fight or flight response. If you have chronic stress, you will have constant elevated levels of cortisol in your body, which in turn influence your immune system- this is why there is a link between chronic stress and chronic illness.
The Mayo clinic (the highly regarded non-profit medical practice and medical research group) has found that an astounding 95% of our physical and psychological disease is caused by stress and bad lifestyle choices. By using unhealthy coping strategies (such as drinking or overeating) we compound the issue.
Who Can Benefit?
Luckily, a good dose of laughter does wonders in counteracting our stress. A recent study on Laughter Yoga in a corporate setting showed that after participating in Lunchtime Laughter Yoga, staff were more relaxed and productive in the afternoon, with improvements in morale, communication and teamwork in the workplace.
Laughter Yoga can also assist in classrooms, where this positive environment helps students to be alert and motivated while also enhancing attention. It is also recommended to people struggling with mental health issues (such as depression), due to its mood lifting effects. These clubs also reduce isolation, and welcome individuals into a community that supports them in a safe environment.
It can also assist in the health sector, as it helps to manage chronic diseases, strengthens the immune system and reduces the effects of stress to improve health and well-being. It can provide benefits to staff and health professionals who have enormous daily responsibilities, as well as their patients and clients.
People with disabilities who attend laughter clubs can benefit from an improvement in social and physical skills, which, in turn, helps to improve their quality of life. It is also highly valuable in aged care, as it can be introduced to residents as part of friendship and exercise groups. This creates fun and laughter, which again adds to their quality of life.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Janni’s background in physio and long term interest in stress led her to find out more about Laughter Yoga. Having experienced stress and health issues in her own life, she was always looking to improve her own situation, and so far has found Laughter Yoga to be the most effective.
Janni was already convinced of using laughter as a coping strategy after attending multiple seminars which highlighted its benefits- including one from Patch Adams himself. When she happened across an ad promoting Dr Kataria’s visit to Perth to teach Laughter Yoga, she immediately re-organised her schedule so she could make it. The rest is history!
Try it For Yourself!
If you are interested in giving it a go for yourself, head to the Laughter WA Inc. website for more information or to find a laughter club near you.
For all laughter enthusiasts, there is an annual Laughter Wellness Conference held in Melbourne in this October, so head here for more information.
You can also attend a quiz night on September 30th held by the Counselling Volunteers Club Rwanda, who among other services, use Laughter yoga to help support genocide survivors and their families. You can find the details here.
Give it a go for yourself, and find out if laughter truly is the best medicine!