Sun demands no reason to shine;
Water demands no reason to flow;
A child demands no reason to smile;
Why do we need a reason to laugh?
Laughter Yoga is a Life Changing Experience. According to Dr Madan Kataria, Founder of Laughter Clubs Movement, “When you laugh, you change and when you change, the whole world changes.”
Laughter Yoga combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (Pranayama). Anyone can laugh for no reason, without relying upon humour, jokes or comedy. In a session, laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group. The group maintains eye contact and childlike playfulness, and laughter soon turns real and contagious. The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on the scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter.
According to a study by Dr Michael Titze, a German Psychologist, people used to laugh 18 minutes a day in the 1950s, but today we laugh not more than 6 minutes per day, despite the huge increase in the standard of living. Children can laugh up to 300-400 times in a day, but as adults this frequency drops to barely 10-15 times a day.
Adults use their cognitive ability to first comprehend humour and then laugh. This is called the Mind-To-Body Model or the Humour Model. The other model is the Childlike Model or the Body-To-Mind Model. Children laugh the most while playing. Their laughter comes straight from the body and does not make use of any intellectual capacity of the brain.
Laughter Yoga makes a clear distinction between happiness and joyfulness. Happiness is a conditional response. It is dependent on the fulfillment of certain desires of the mind and is related to happenings in the past and the future and hardly ever deals with the present. Do you remember how long you stayed happy after getting that diploma, car, job, or new house that you had worked for so long?
In contrast, joyfulness is unconditional commitment to be happy for the moment and to have fun despite life’s problems. Joyfulness is easily triggered by joyful activities like laughing, dancing, singing and playing. It is purely a physical phenomenon while happiness is a concept of the mind.
In order to get scientifically proven benefits of laughter, we need to laugh continuously for at least 10 to 15 minutes. To reap the health benefits of laughter, laughter has to be loud and deep, coming from the diaphragm. Natural laughter that courses through our life depends on many reasons and conditions, but there are not many reasons which make us laugh.
Dr Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai, is the founder of Laughter Yoga Clubs movement. Started with just five people in a public park in Mumbai in 1995, it has grown into a worldwide movement of thousands of laughter clubs in more than 65 countries.
The most frequently asked question is, “How do you laugh when you are in no mood to laugh or you don’t have any reason to laugh?” The answer is quite simple. Motion creates emotion, and vice versa.
Did you know that we can actually learn to laugh? Our body and mind can be trained to laugh at will. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle. It’s like muscle memory; once you learn it, you never forget it.
The most important factor in Laughter Clubs is the willingness of the participants to laugh. The members laugh voluntarily, with full commitment. All you need to do is to give yourself permission to laugh – and nobody can stop you.
Laughter Yoga goes beyond just laughing. It not only fosters a feeling of physical well being, it enhances the spirit and touches the emotional core. It cultivates positive thinking and promotes understanding. Laughter Yoga gives participants the opportunity to actively enhance the lives of others.
Even when one exhales completely, there is some amount of air left in the lungs, called residual air. During inhalation we breathe in 500 to 700 ml of air and almost the same amount is exhaled. This 500-700ml constitutes only 25% of our lung capacity. But there is a huge volume of residual stale air in our lungs that has more carbon dioxide.
Both laughter and yogic breathing exercises are intended to stimulate the movement of the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles which helps to activate the parasympathetic system – the calming branch of the autonomic nervous system. This is opposite to the sympathetic system – the stress arousal system. One can turn off the stress arousal system by simply learning to move the diaphragm.
Dr Otto Warburg, Nobel Laureate said,”Deep breathing techniques increase oxygen to the cells and are the most important factors in living a disease-free and energetic life. When cells get enough oxygen, cancer will not and cannot occur.”
Laughter Yoga goes beyond laughter and physical wellbeing. It enhances the inner spirit and makes people change for the better. Unconditional laughter connects people from different cultures, countries, no matter what language they speak or how they live.
In Laughter Clubs, we have different styles of belly laughter that exercise the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm simultaneously. Scientists have referred to laughter as internal jogging. Regular laughter exercise strengthens the abdominal muscles and gives a constant massage.
Laughing promotes a healthy heart. In a good bout of laughter, there is a dilation of blood vessels all over the body. We’ve all seen or experienced this as a flushed appearance and feeling of warmth. Pulse rate and blood pressure rise as the circulatory system is stimulated before settling down, below the original levels. In a nutshell, laughter helps tone the circulatory system of the body.
Laughter and breathing exercises help to increase the breathing capacity of the lungs and increase the net supply of oxygen to the body. Laughter sessions, along with deep breathing, are like chest physiotherapy – especially for those who smoke and suffer from bronchitis and respiratory airway obstruction.
The foremost benefit of laughing is that one remains cheerful throughout the day. This sense of wellbeing comes from the release of feel good hormones called endorphins. One also develops the ability to laugh at small things. Laughter Yoga helps to develop sense of humour and bring more childlike playfulness.
According to Dr William Fry, 10 minutes of hearty laughter is equal to 30 minutes on the rowing machine. This is in respect of cardiopulmonary endurance. Laughter Yoga is ideally suited for busy professionals who have very little time to exercise. 20 minutes of Laughter Yoga can give you similar results as those of going to gym for one hour.
Stress is the number one killer today, and most illnesses are stress related. Laughter Yoga is an instant stress buster which takes care of physical, mental and emotional stress simultaneously. It has been scientifically proven that laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and enhances positive emotions.
The practice of using unconditional laughter to prepare for stressful events is known as Laughter Boosting and is gaining popularity with speakers, actors and other performers to prepare themselves for presentations to audiences of all sizes.
Laughter Yoga has proved to be very effective as a personal development tool. It enhances mental skills and abilities that help a person to improve their performance in every sphere of life. It is a powerful means for self confidence as it helps to overcome inhibition and shyness and eases out awkwardness.
Laughter has an infinite potential to enhance right brain functionality, which is the seat of creativity, intuition, imagination, inventions, music, art, meditation and healing. Laughter is an excellent exercise for toning facial muscles and improving expressions. Laughter enhances communication skills and cultivates positive emotions.
A weak immune system is a major cause for almost all sickness and ill health. Laughter boosts immune system. Oxygen is one of the primary catalysts for all metabolic reactions in the human body. Ongoing scientific studies show that lack of oxygen is the major cause of most diseases. Laughter Yoga flushes the lungs and fully oxygenates the blood and major organs leaving one bursting with energy and vitality and free from disease.
Scientific studies have proved that a few days of laughter exercises and deep breathing lowers blood pressure thus reducing the risk of a heart attack. Having too much cholesterol in the blood can lead to the hardening and narrowing of the arteries in the major vascular systems. A daily dose of laughter opens the arteries and allows the blood to flow freely to all parts of the body thus preventing a cardiac failure.
Diabetes is emerging as a major health hazard worldwide. Japanese scientist Murakami’s experiment to ascertain the effect of laughter on the blood sugar levels has affirmed that laughter has a lowering impact on blood sugar. Murakami indentified 23 genes that can be activated with laughter. In addition, it also reduces the stress hormone cortisol responsible for increase in sugar levels and stabilizes the immune system, which if weakened, can affect the production of insulin in the pancreas.
Laughter has a profound positive impact on allergies, with many practitioners reporting complete disappearance of all symptoms of asthma, skin and other allergies. Though not an intervention for countering physical causes of allergies; Laughter Yoga is a definite tool to remedy stress. It helps to reduce the risk factors by boosting the immune system, encouraging deep breathing and flushing the lungs of stale air and generating a feeling of wellness.
Those suffering from life threatening diseases not only go through physical pain; they also face immense psychological trauma. Not just the patient, but family, friends and care givers all need positive reinforcement. Having a positive mental attitude greatly influences the course of the disease. We have had many members suffering from cancer, immune disorders, multiple sclerosis and other chronic diseases who have reported relief from their symptoms, thereby reducing their medications.
Depression is often associated with physical pain, feelings of despair, loss of appetite, immobility, insomnia and other cardiovascular problems. Practicing Laughter Yoga regularly helps to resolve most of these ailments as it is one of the fastest ways of boosting heart rate, reducing blood pressure, providing an excellent cardio workout and alleviating pain. Extended hearty laughter is a body exercise with powerful body-mind healing effects.
The combination of natural pain killers with movements in laughter exercises makes Laughter Yoga a powerful tool for physiotherapy. Many practitioners have reported reversal of frozen shoulder and other movement limitations due to stroke, arthritis, and injury. Endorphins released as a result of laughter help in reducing the intensity of pain in those suffering from arthritis, spondylitis and muscular spasms of the body.
Members of Laughter Clubs are engaged as active and interactive participants, and not as passive audience being entertained. It has been proved that people who actively participate in any humour and laughter activity get more benefits, than those who inertly receive humour and laughter. The source of laughter is within the body, and one can generate laughter with conscious effort and commitment, anytime he or she wants to.
Laughter exercises are short and easy and can be added to your existing fitness programme. It can be a value addition to Yoga groups, Tai-Chi groups, aerobic centres, meditation centres, health clubs, sports and fun activities.
The whole world is an extended family. Let us join through Love and Laughter.
(Excerpts from 'LAUGH For No Reason' by Dr Madan Kataria.)
Compiled by Jagat Singh Bisht, CLYT, Indore, India