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Is Laughter Yoga The Next Best Medicine?

Taking care of your health is nothing to joke about, unless of course, you’re practicing the art of laughter on your mat. Laughter Yoga is a lively practice involving deep belly pranayama as a tool for healing.

This movement was pioneered by Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician, in 1995 in Mumbai, India with a laughter group of just five people and has since spread worldwide to more than 8,000 Laughter Clubs in 65 countries.

Why? This comical concept focuses on more than just a few good ha-has. The mission is pretty serious - to heal people medically, physically, emotionally and spiritually through combining yogic principles with the power of breath.

Francine Shore, founder of Laughter Yoga Salon has been teaching this method for over 10 years. After anintensive training under Dr. Kataria, Shore began bringing laughter to children, students, seniors and even corporations around Manhattan.

The former talent agent and class clown leads 1-hour classes the first three Tuesdays of the month (6pm-7pm) at Pearl Studios that include laughing exercises and meditation. They are designed to be all about letting go through playful yogic-based exercises. “We’re always ready for the next fight in NYC and everything feels restricted,” says Shore, “laughter heals that.”

The sound HA-HA is very rigorous, but thoroughly exhilarating (try it). Most peoples’ breath is shallow, but when you find that authentic deep belly laugh you begin to really expand the diaphragm and let out the stale oxygen from your lungs.

“This diaphragmatic laughter is the key to gaining the health benefits,” says Shore. During typical air exchange in normal breathing, 25% of it never gets exchanged and remains as toxins, which can become a source of disease or at least dis-ease. Deep belly laughter raises the exchange up to 80-90% because you’re pumping out that last pocket of air on every ‘HA’ then breathing fresh oxygen back in.

Is a dose of LOL the next best medicine? According to Laughter Guru Vishwa Prakash the answer is: yes. After training under Dr. Kataria in 2000, Prakash, who healed his own shyness through laughter exercises, started leading sessions to offer a burst of positivity for those numbed by pain and loneliness. Sessions are held 5:30pm every Wednesday at Better Health Chiropractic running as little as 10 minutes and as long as 45 minutes.

Most people are drawn to laughter sessions out of curiosity. Many even expect a comedy, but Laughter Yoga actually strays away from that. “It’s not about one liners and jokes,” explains Prakash, “our laughter springs from the heart.” There is also an element of eye contact to create a sense of connectedness along with genuine laughter.

Just as laughter is contagious, so are laughter communities. Prakash has had more than 10,000 visitors over 9 years and at least 1500 are regulars. They must be coming back for something!

Turns out there is a scientific basis for what these laughter teachers are doing. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, participating in Laughter Yoga oxygenates all the cells in the body, strengthens the immune system, decreases anxiety and depression, increases endorphins, improves sleep and even burns 400 calories/hour.

Over the past 15 years, practitioners have seen the benefits of Laughter Yoga cure more loneliness and emotional disturbances than just physical illness. “Arguments and anger causes physical issues,” Prakash explains, “laughter busts all that.”

Beth Bongar, the Laughing Diva, has been helping people bust through stress with these healing techniques since 1995. Her passion began when joining the Big Apple Circus as the clown, Dr. Funny Bone, and now she teaches classes on Wednesdays at Naam Yoga as well as leading workshops for corporate wellness programs and the public covering topics including “Laughing Matters” (for stress and fear), “Stretch and Laugh” (for older adults and people with disabilities) and Yum Meditation™ (for joy and pleasure).

According to Bongar, you don’t have to be a yogi, have a mat or get on the floor for Laughter Yoga. But she does expect you to tap into your inner child. “It’s about being silly and learning to laugh at yourself instead of getting mad at yourself.”

This laughing diva suggests practicing a ho-ho-ha-ha-ha mantra at least 15 minutes a day to activate the thyroid and diaphragm. “People really love when they are able to access their own joy through laughter.”

As far as any risks are concerned: there’s a slight chance you will pee your pants! But we’ve learned in these circumstances there’s only one thing to do: laugh.

- Ashley Rose Howard

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