Laughter, long rumoured to be the best medicine for life’s aches and pains, is now being dispensed at Laughter Yoga clubs which are springing up all over the country as this health-promoting phenomenon gains momentum.
As well as releasing endorphins which give us the ‘feel good factor’, laughter can act as aerobic exercise, increasing the oxygen uptake in the body with multiple benefits. It’s a bit like jogging from the inside, it tones muscles, improves respiration and circulation.
Kay Cook already runs a local Action for Happiness Club in Cumbria and is now starting a Laughter Yoga Club. I asked her tentatively how it would be possible to laugh and do Yoga at the same time, but she explains that Yoga is only part of the story.
‘There are a few exercises, but the main connection to yoga is yogic breathing (pranayama) which increases the amount of oxygen in your body.’
So how does she get everyone laughing? “There is no stand up routine”, she assures me, “the idea that we have to find something funny in order to start laughing is a misconception.”
“If you come to a club, all you need is a willingness to laugh. And once you start laughing in a group, it’s very easy to carry on. It’s infectious.”
Watching her demonstrate at a conference, she manages to get a roomful of 100 people laughing within about 30 seconds. It’s done through a combination of simulated laughter, funny faces and short mimes.
Initially the laughter is false laughter, but Kay explains that in terms of the physical benefits, the body doesn’t know the difference between forced laughter and the real thing.
However judging by Kay’s class, with eye contact the laughter soon becomes real. One of the warm up exercises involves a mass convergence. She gets everyone gathered in a circle, then on her command of HA HA HA, they all move in to the centre shouting HO HO HO followed by lots of spontaneous belly laughs.
“It’s easy to get started because when you see warm, friendly people coming towards you, the tendency is to respond naturally by smiling and giggling. Soon you find you have a natural inclination to laugh.”
The laughter session came at the end of the conference and it was striking how it made a perfect finale, bringing everyone together and creating a feeling of unison.
The idea of Laughter Yoga all started in India where a medical doctor, Dr Madan Kataria, has studied laughter and found that its benefits are physical as well as psychological.
He firmly believes that by relaxing our bodies and reducing stress we are also boosting our immune systems, helping to resist disease. All this in addition to the more obvious physical factors like improving respiration and circulation.
Believing that every day should therefore start with a good laugh, Dr Kataria set up the first Laughter Yoga club which meets in a park in Bombay every morning, as discovered by John Cleese in this YouTube video.