Think that sounds crazy to laugh for no reason? How about laughing for the fun of it? Or for the health of it?
Every day millions of people worldwide participate in a practice called Laughter Yoga—the fun way to exercise. Every day, people prove what Norman Cousins discovered in 1964—that laughter is the best medicine.
According to the founder of Laughter Yoga, Madan Kataria M.D., “Laughter changes frustration to fascination, frees us from inhibitions, and wakes up the child in us. You don’t have to have a sense of humor to practice laughter yoga.”
Laughter Yoga has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show; Dancing with the Stars; Geraldo Rivera’s Geraldo at Large; Good Morning America, and CNN, to name a few.
I’ve been a certified Laughter Yoga Leader for ten years, leading laughter classes most anywhere, including on the beach. Residents of assisted living and skilled nursing facilities have greatly benefited from laughter classes as well as the seniors in my Monday morning class at a retirement community in Laguna Woods, California that is still going strong after eight years.
The benefits of laughter are many: Laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and increases the level of health-enhancing hormones including endorphins and neurotransmitters. Laughter increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T-cells, which strengthens the immune system and reduces the physical effects of stress. Research also shows that sustained laughter (15 – 20 minutes of activity) enhances all aspects of our well being:
- Physical Release: Have you ever felt like you had to laugh or you’d cry? Have you experienced that cleansed feeling after a good laugh? Laughter provides a reliable form of physical and emotional release.
- Internal Workout: A good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abdominal muscles, and even works out the shoulders, leaving muscles more relaxed afterward. It also provides a great workout for the heart.
- Distraction: Laughter interrupts feelings of anger, guilt, stress, and other negative emotions more effectively than other types of distractions.
- Perspective: Studies show that our response to stressful events can be altered by whether we view something as a threat or a challenge. Humor can give us a more lighthearted perspective and help us view events as challenges, thereby making them less threatening and more positive.
- Social Benefits of Laughter: Laughter is contagious and it connects us with others. As you bring more laughter into your life, others around you are more likely to laugh and realize the benefits as well. When their mood is elevated, social interactions with them improve reducing your stress level even more!
Laughter Yoga classes accommodate people whether they are standing or sitting, using walkers or wheelchairs, or challenged by other disabilities. The key is eye contact and a willingness to let that innate energy of laughter bubble up from inside. Children do it naturally throughout the day whereas most adults think in order to laugh they have to hear a joke or something deemed to be funny. Not so in a laughter class. Once you practice laughing for the fun of it, you’ll find it easier to laugh and do it more often.
So how do you laugh for no reason? These routines will do more than tickle your sides or have skeptics thinking you may have lost it.
- Want some giggle juice? Pretend you’re mixing up a delightful concoction and “drink” the laughter while rubbing your tummy.
- Can’t laugh out loud? Practice silent laughter (remember at school or in church when you covered your mouth, held your stomach, and laughed without making a sound?).
- Want to make a call? Hold an imaginary phone and simply laugh!
- Need a hearty laugh? Raise both arms toward the sky with head tilted back a little, feeling the laughter coming from your heart.
- Have a mirror? Practice these and other routines in front of a mirror. Now that will make you laugh!
You can find laughter classes offered through local recreation departments, yoga studios, fitness centers, or Meetup.com groups. If you can’t find a class, you can use your phone. Check out Laughter Yoga USA or Serious Giggles.
Give it a go and see how you feel. As newcomers to the class tell me in our closing gratitude circle, they are happy they tried it. They say they’re coming back and most of them do. How about you? Are you ready to improve your health in every way with a lot of Ho-Ho-Ha-Ha-Ha? That’s the spirit, and as we say in class, “Very good, very good… YAY!”