Do you come across groups of people laughing out loud in your neighbourhood park as you walk or jog every morning? They are not being just sociable but practising a form of Yoga called Laughter Yoga or Hasyayoga. We bring you the what, why and how of it.

What is Laughter Yoga?

Yoga has been around for thousands of years but laughter yoga is relatively new. In the mid-1990s an Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria developed this unique exercise routine that combines Yoga’s breathing exercises (pranayama) with laughter exercises. Dr. Kataria’s research on the physiological and psychological benefits of laughter led to the first Laughter Club being born in Mumbai. The routine is said to bring more oxygen into the body and the brain. This in turns leaves you feeling energetic throughout the day. The practice is based on the premise that your body doesn’t know the difference between fake and real laughter.

How is it practised?

Laughter yoga is practised in groups and generally in the early hours of the morning. The group, usually known as a Laughter Club, will generally assemble in an open area, like a park. Each group is headed by a Laugh Captain who takes the group through the exercises. These begin with a warm-up that includes stretching, clapping and chanting. This is followed by pranayama to prepare your lungs for the forthcoming laughter. Laughter exercises involve eye contact amongst group members as well as playfulness. These are particularly prolonged and intense if the group members have known each other for a while and there is a natural camaraderie. No humour or comedy is involved in laughter yoga. The session will usually end in meditation or relaxation exercises.

What do you do if you don’t feel like laughing? Maybe you’re nursing a broken heart or are stressed about your work; obviously laughter will not come very easily to you. But you should just go ahead and participate anyway. You will find that forced laughter will turn to real laughter really soon. Besides, laughter is contagious, and having a group of people laughing around you may just find that you cannot help but join in.

What are the benefits?

Laughter Yoga involves at least 15-20 minutes of loud, hearty laughter, making it a vigorous cardio workout. This leads to better blood circulation and relaxation of muscles. The increased blood supply to the brain ups your productivity and efficiency. Laughter has also been known to be a stress-buster and a study has found that it is beneficial to depressed patients as well. Another study by Oxford University found that laughter elevates pain thresholds by releasing endorphins, which have an opiate effect. One of the positives is that anyone can practise laughter yoga since it’s a light, low-impact workout and it’s especially beneficial for the differently-abled. It is also a great way to connect with people and many a time leads to lifelong friendships. Overall, it’s a complete workout that improves your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

There are thousands of Laughter Clubs in several countries and you will easily find one in your city. So go ahead, laugh for no reason. It will do you a world of good. Laughter is, after all, the best medicine!

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