Don’t feel much like laughing these days? You and a whole lot of other people. But laughter is good for more than the soul, even when you have to force it. In fact, some research shows that a simulated laugh may be more effective in improving depression, anxiety, and perceived stress than a spontaneous laugh.
A prime example of simulated laughter is Laughter Yoga, which was founded in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai, India. Denise Macaronas, a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader here in Maine, invited me to a monthly session she leads to see what it was all about.
We are not being silly when we laugh, we are practicing a scientifically-based method to take care of ourselves. Children laugh 400+ times a day; adults maybe15 times a day. Everyone needs to learn to take care of themselves and this practice is an easy one that can be done at home, alone. You need 20 minutes of sustained laughter, interspersed with deep breathing and stretching exercises, in order to gain the health benefits of laughter. We all have the ability within ourselves to feel better through laughter.Denise Macaronas, Certified Laughter Yoga Leader
I confess that I was a bit anxious about attending the session and possibly looking/feeling a little foolish, but it was great fun, and the energy and goodwill that I experienced lingered long after. There were eight of us and everyone but me was a Laughter Yoga pro. By the way, because of COVID, for the time being, the sessions are on Zoom instead of in person.
Going through some laugh motions
The first thing Denise told us was that even if we didn’t feel like laughing or smiling, going through the motions was as beneficial as real hearty laughs because the body can’t tell the difference. She asked the class what time it was. The answer, of course, was that it was time to laugh and so, everybody did.
We didn’t just sit there and look at each other and laugh for an hour. Denise led us through several short exercises beginning with us imagining that we just woke up and are gazing at ourselves in the mirror. Instead of groaning at our reflections, we had to recite (with enthusiasm) “You are amazing! I am amazing! We all are amazing!” Recite that into the mirror every morning and it will be a great start to your day.
In another scenario, we pretended we were doing some household chores all the while laughing “to our heart’s content” as Denise put it. Try this: Don’t just imagine you are dusting or vacuuming or clearing clutter, make the motions, and as you do, laugh out loud.
Laughter Yoga is a unique exercise program for both health and happiness, says Denise. Along with all the laughter, the yoga portion involves deep, slow breaths in combination with stretching exercises. They don’t use yoga mats, don’t get on the floor, don’t do yoga poses, but they’re still getting a beneficial workout. This approach seems to have a positive effect on everyone, including Denise.
I have led programs for many different age groups and abilities. Knowing that I am letting people release some tension through laughter, deep breaths, and stretching, as well as giving them pointers on how to continue this practice at home has a very positive effect on me. I also feel that my creative juices flow easier after laughing. I haven’t caught a cold or the flu (and hopefully I can add Covid-19 to that list) as I do think my immune system is benefitting from this practice. I feel relaxed, exhausted, and energized all at the same time. I don’t feel as stressed or anxious about what’s going on in the world around us because now I have another coping skill in my “tool kit” of life. And I also get a good night’s sleep after a Laughter Yoga session.Denise Macaronas
Karen Morency told me she feels lighter, more light-hearted, and more herself after a session, and she is also more patient and tolerant.
I love to laugh. The very first time I tried it, it was outdoors, on folding chairs, and I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair and my jaws and cheeks were sore from laughing for one hour! I floated home!Karen Morency
Phyllis Kelly says when she tells friends that she goes to Laughter Yoga, they look at her and roll their eyes, but she has managed to convince some that besides being healthy, it’s a lot of fun.
It’s the easiest exercise and certainly beats the treadmill! When the class is over, my ribs and face ache (in a nice way) because it is also a workout with a lot of movement and breathing. I feel good after laughing so much. I was always in trouble at school because I tend to be a giggler! It’s nice not to feel guilty about something you enjoy.Phyllis Kelly
Susan Fine has been doing Laughter Yoga with Denise and her group for about two years.
I love to laugh. I don’t think there’s anything more enjoyable or good feeling than laughing. When the class is over, I feel happy and refreshed. I feel like I’ve accomplished something good. I also love to watch the others laughing, especially Denise. Her laughter is very contagious.Susan Fine
Marcia Jackson, who is also a Certified Laughter Yoga leader, says she continually reaps the benefits.
Laughter is deep diaphragmatic breathing. After 15 minutes of laughing, your body releases the feel-good endorphins. We also do slow deep breathing exercises and end with a calming thoughtful meditation. I feel happy, relaxed, friendly, and very glad I attended the session! Knowing this diaphragmatic breathing releases feel-good endorphins, I will laugh in the car as I drive to work or to a doctor/dentist appointment and I will have a better attitude.Marcia Jackson
Patricia Dyk first learned about Laughter Yoga in a book.
I read about it in an Indian murder mystery and was curious. When Falmouth Community Programs offered a class, I signed up and have continued to attend classes for several years because I find the practice relaxing and always leave feeling better. However, I do miss laughing in person.Patricia Dyk
Online vs. in person
Doing Laughter Yoga online instead of in person does have its drawbacks, but everyone is grateful they can still participate.
I am so glad we can do this online. The pros are that we didn’t have to stop when we needed this the most. Thank goodness for Zoom. I would miss this class if we couldn’t do it.Susan Fine
Phyllis misses being able to socialize as they could in person and says the movements are limited on line, but at least they can get together.
I appreciate the fact that it is online because Denise (and other teachers who drop in) give us a nice break from being stuck in the house. We get to see friends and have some fun together. The Community Center programs that I enjoyed so much have all been canceled.Phyllis Kelly
Marcia says thanks to online sessions, she’s met people from around the world.
A Laughter Yoga session on Zoom is WONDERFUL! For me, I get all the same benefits as if it were held in person. I have been to Zoom sessions held in British Columbia, Canada, Mexico, England, Massachusetts, India, New York City, Kingdom of Bahrain, Australia, Pennsylvania, and more. I see a lot of familiar faces of people who have attended various Zoom sessions at the time I attended. I have it in my mind that maybe when the world is back in order, I may meet some of these people at a Laughter Yoga Conference.Marcia Jackson
Denise says when she first started Laughter Yoga, she was surprised by the lack of laughter in people’s lives as well as how many people avoided true eye contact with others.
I didn’t realize that is difficult for some people to give themselves permission or to seek out opportunities to laugh out loud because they might be considered silly (or worse). Laughter Yoga offers the opportunity to laugh with others and to laugh for no reason at all. Because laughing is contagious, it is best to do it with others, but laughing alone is also possible. We never laugh at anyone but it is ok to laugh at ourselves. When we tell jokes we do so in gibberish or with animal sounds because some jokes can be hurtful or sarcastic. When the person telling the joke comes to the punch line, we all raise our arms and laugh. We have no idea what we are laughing at but we all feel good about it.Denise Macaronas
Karen, who teaches Tai Chi, did Buddha Laughing in one of her classes and agrees with Denise that some people cannot bring themselves to laugh or are uncomfortable with other people laughing. She passes along a lesson she learned.
One of my mentors said that’s because they might feel they are being laughed at, so I always give people permission to do whatever works for them, that nothing is ever right or wrong, only what you know.Karen Morency
How about a laugh?
If you think laughing would add something beneficial to your life, go for it. Whether you want to participate in a Laughter Yoga group or do it alone, give yourself permission to laugh. At nothing.