Laughter yoga classes are taking off around the world, so Happiful’s Kathryn Wheeler signed up for a session to discover the serious benefits behind having a chuckle
It’s 3pm on a Monday, and I’m sat in front of my laptop, ready to join a virtual laughter yoga class. When I first stumbled across the idea of ‘laughter yoga’, in my mind’s eye I envisioned a group of people heartily laughing while in traditional yoga poses – similar to my own reaction every time I poorly attempt downward facing dog – and I was about halfway right.
Laughter yoga, as it is done today, was developed by medical doctor Dr Madan Kataria who, after studying the numerous benefits of laughter, was inspired to launch the first ‘Laughter Club’ with five people in a park. The group gathered in a circle, told jokes, messed around, were generally silly, and had a laugh. Rather than adapting the yoga poses we’re accustomed to, Dr Kataria’s laughing yoga was more focused on tuning-in to the intentionality and mindfulness of yoga, mixing in breathing and stretching with moments of prompted laughter. Following the first few trials, he realised that the body cannot distinguish between real and pretend laughter – furthermore, make-believe laughter often turned genuine, and the physiological benefits of the exercise were felt for days after the sessions.
With that discovery, the practice took off, and today Dr Kataria runs a free virtual laughter club every day – which is what I’m about to dive into.
A perk of going virtual, the Laughter Club attracts people from all over the world, and as the host welcomes the ‘international family’ to the call, I see ‘hellos’ from Italy, Japan, Spain, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Israel, Uruguay, and Hull. The first part of the session was hosted by laughter yogi Vinayak Shastri, who took a moment to remind us that we’re all small children, that the child is still within us, that we have suppressed that child, but in Laughter Club we’ll allow that child to come out once again.
This leads us seamlessly into two minutes of freeform ‘silly time’ – and, let me tell you, the attendees of the Laughter Club understood the brief. As my Zoom window jumps from person to person, I watch, half in bewilderment and half in awe, as people blow raspberries, pull funny faces, and make all kinds of odd noises with not a single punch pulled. At this point, I did try to access my own inner child – but because, as a child, I was painfully shy, serious, and usually found on the sidelines of the action, I didn’t find much help there. That said, who could resist letting out a chuckle as an adult man gleefully flies across your screen making aeroplane noises? It was all very, very silly – though, of course, that’s completely the point.
But the benefits of laughter yoga are no joke. On a physical level, laughter increases our intake of oxygen, stimulating our heart, lungs, and muscles. From there, it increases the endorphins (feel-good chemicals) that are released by the brain, soothing our stress response and even decreasing our blood pressure. It’s these endorphins that leave us feeling happy and calm after a good laugh – add some friendly company into the mix and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a good time.
About 20 minutes into the session, it was time for the main attraction, as Dr Madan Kataria came on the call to guide us through the next stage. With a mix of periods of laughing, stretching, clapping, and breathing, Dr Kataria masterfully switched the tone between peaceful quietness and jubilant laughter, and soon – without really realising it – I found myself laughing along without having to try. Over the course of the session, I shed that self-conscious layer that was stopping me from letting go at the start. I was laughing from my belly, and feeling the warmth spreading through my body, mixed with deep, healing breaths and stretches as I embraced this hour of silliness and solace in the middle of a standard, busy workday.
The session ended with a dance party to Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ (no prizes for guessing that song), and as I watched the images of people from all over the world freely dancing while grinning ear-to-ear – one man even taking a break to wipe the tears from his eyes – I got it. I got the power of letting go of the behaviours you may not have even realised were holding you down, to let all the silliness bubble up to the surface, to shed seriousness and sensibleness, and to just have fun. That evening, I felt lighter, playful, and relaxed. And the best part? A good laugh doesn’t cost a thing.
Fancy giving laughter yoga a go? Join free, virtual classes every day
To connect with a life coach to discuss the importance of play, relaxation and laughter, visit lifecoach-directory.org.uk