a humorous prescription for better health
Words by Nina Anderson
Yoga has adopted a new pose, but this one doesn’t call for super-human flexibility. Laughter yoga, a trend in exercise and
mental health, isn’t your traditional yoga class. All you need to know is how to laugh.
According to the Laughter Yoga International website, laughteryoga.org, this method was developed in 1995. Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician in India, was intrigued by the idea of incorporating giggles into everyday life. After researching the effects of laughter as a form of medicine, he started the first laughing club with only five members. It continued to grow, spreading the fit of hysteria all the way to the Midwest.
“Laughter is exceptionally healthy,” says Laura Gentry, founder of the Iowa School of Laughter Yoga. Classes around the country combine deep, yogic breathing with silly actions or motions to get you chuckling. These movements can be anything that’s funny: pretend you just ate something sour, swat away imaginary mosquitoes or make loud noises.
If those techniques don’t work, start with fake laughter. When you laugh, your brain releases endorphins that immediately improve your mood and relieve stress. The brain doesn’t know the difference between fake and real laughter, so you’re still getting all of the benefits. “Once you hear yourself laugh, you realize how absurd you sound, so you start to really laugh,” says Mary Margaret Anderson, a laughter leader and teacher in Plymouth, Minn.
But this new exercise can do more than brighten your day. A study conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., found the average person burns up to 50 calories with 10 to 15 minutes of laughter. That means you could lose four pounds a year by chortling for 10 to 15 minutes each day. No wonder your abdominal muscles ache after a good chuckle.
Another huge plus—laughter acts as an anti-aging agent. With each “ha-ha,” you generate more blood flow to facial tissues, which makes your skin shine. But one of the most important things laughter can do is boost your immune system by creating antibodies.
Lori Hoover noticed a difference after her first training session with Gentry. “[Laughter yoga] really allows us to dump all of the intensely serious aspects of our lives,” Hoover says. “The weight of the world just goes away.”
Work a chuckle or two into your daily routine to reap the benefits. “Laughter is extremely user-friendly,” Gentry says. “It’s pretty easy to get people laughing.” She suggests giggling at anything and everything—so go ahead. Laugh. I downward-facing-dog dare you.
LAUGH YOURSELF SILLY
Try some of these techniques to work laughter into your daily routine.
With both physical and emotional benefits, laughter is something that should be worked into your everyday routine. Here are some fun and simple ways laughter yoga leaders suggest to keep you chuckling throughout the day.
Whistle while you work. Laura Gentry, founder of the Iowa School for Laughter Yoga, suggests laughing while you clean your house. Use different pitches for each giggle to match what you're cleaning with.
Laughter language. Grab your friends and have a conversation using only a variety of chuckles—it will be almost impossible to hold in your real laughter.
Rush-hour snicker. Gentry also found that one of the best places to laugh is in your car on the way to and from work. She even created a CD of laughing exercises to chortle along with during your drive.
Bubble bursts. Laughter yoga leader Lori Hoover's favorite way to laugh is by pretending you're blowing bubbles while giggling at them. It's an easy way to laugh and Hoover claims it's stress-relieving as well. "Every time I imagine I'm blowing those bubbles, I think of all my problems and worries going away in them," Hoover says.
Cell phone chuckle. Simple things like holding your cell phone to your ear—even when there's no one on the other line—is another great way to laugh, according to Gentry.
This article was published in December 2008 by 515magazine.com.
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