What Is Laughter Yoga Therapy?
Laughter sessions involving laughter exercises and yogic breathing
release resistance, decrease stress and increase joy and wellbeing
Learn about the psychology of happiness and how laughter benefits the health of mind and body
Laughter and Yoga: It’s All about the Breath
is a revolutionary movement that’s blazing a happy trail across the globe. Its simple premise is that anyone can laugh. We don’t need jokes, comedy, or even a sense of humor. All that’s necessary is the desire to laugh—to open up our hearts, letting the joy of laughter flow.
The story of Laughter Yoga began in 1995, when Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from India, decided to help his patients laugh more. He’d been researching the health benefits of laughter and was surprised to find that, indeed, laughter is the best medicine.
Research has demonstrated that there are many benefits to laughter. Here are some:
• boosts heart health—Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to a study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Michael Miller, M.D., F.A.C.C., director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the UMMC says: "The ability to laugh—either naturally or as learned behavior may have important implications in societies such as the U.S. where heart disease remains the number one killer. We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list." [source: UMMC] Additional research from Bangalore, India found a 6% reduction in blood pressure after laughing. See the chart below. [source: Laughter Yoga University]
• strengthens the immune system—Laughter, it seems, gives you super hero strength against infection. That's because it increases the body's production of natural killer (NK) cells. These are the white blood cells that attack tumor cells and those infected with virus. One study found laughter may be an extremely beneficial addition to treatments for cancer and HIV patients. [source: Bennett et al]. In fact there is a whole field of study called psychoneuroimmunology, which is dedicated to deciphering the relationship between human behavior (in this case, laughing) and the mind, and how it affects the immune system [source: Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology].
• relieves pain naturally—Laughing releases endorphins (peptides that give a sense of well-being and help with pain management). These are, indeed, the body's natural pain-killers. Norman Cousins, a prominent journalist, discovered this in managing his own pain and went on to write the 1979 bestselling book about it:Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient. Numerous studies have been done on this, including one in 2011, which found that laughter was correlated with an elevated pain threshold. [source: Dunbar]
• reduces stress —Stressed? Just laugh. It won't change your life, but it will change your perspective because your stress hormone level will go down. Research from Bangalore, India found a dramatic 28% reduction in cortisol after laughing. See the chart below. Other studies have also demonstrated that cortisol and epinepherine tend to decrease after laughing. [source: Brian, Pattillo and Itano, Berk]
• helps control blood sugar—Having that extra dessert you know you shouldn't? At least laugh about it!
In a study published by the Diabetes Journal, people with type 2 diabetes and those without the disease ate a meal, and then attended a boring lecture; the next day, the subjects again ate the same meal, but then joined a comedy show audience. The subjects recorded that blood glucose levels didn't increase after the meal for the diabetic patients at the comedy show. [source: Hayashi et al].
• improves the quality of sleep—Because hearty laughter is a cardiovascular workout and diminishes stress, the relaxation response is induced afterwards, allowing for better sleep. According to a Japanese study, laughter therapy is considered to be a useful, cost-effective and easily-accessible intervention that has positive effects on insomnia and sleep quality in the elderly. [source: Ko, Youn]
• supports emotional health—We're usually happy when we laugh, but it works in reverse, too: when we're laughing, we're happy. Laughter can support emotional health by releasing the endorphins serotonin and dopamine into the blood stream . This improves the ability to cope with life challenges. It can defuse negative, toxic emotions and helps reduce sadness and depression. "Forced laughter is a powerful, readily available and cost-free way for many adults to regularly boost their mood and psychological well-being," said Charles Schaefer, psychology professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey.
• increases social skills—People would rather be with a happy laugher than a Debbie Downer. Finding your laugh may be the key to improving your social skills. Many scientists believe laughter allows humans to connect, bond and communicate with each other. The more comfortable you feel with someone else, the easier it becomes to laugh. In fact, leading researchers believe people are 30 times more likely to laugh in social settings than if they were alone [sources: Brain, Recker].
• expands creativity & problem solving—When you laugh, things aren't quite as hard. That's what Dr. Alice Isen at the University of Maryland demonstrated in a number of studies. She found that putting people in a good mood by laughing or increasing their sense of humor actually helped them organize information better and become more creative at performing tasks. Isen explained that laughter improves problem solving and leads to creative thinking and innovation [source: Isen].
Dr Kataria Founder of Laughter Yoga Therapy
You actually have to laugh in order to reap these great benefits, so Dr. Kataria (pictured above) decided to prescribe laughter by starting a laughter club. At a park in Mumbai, India, he gathered people together just to laugh. They began with jokes but quickly discovered that not all jokes are appropriate for all audiences. So, instead, the laughers came to rely upon frolicsome activities they called “laughter exercises.” All you have to do, they discovered, is create a funny scenario and roll with it. Because this taps into our natural instinct to play, the laughter flows effortlessly.
Dr. Kataria’s wife, Madhuri, a yoga teacher, suggested they add deep, yogic breathing to their exuberant workouts. This component became a perfect compliment to the laughter. They developed the term “Laughter Yoga” to describe this unique form of exercise.
ince 1995, this simple laughter club in India has grown into a worldwide phenomenon with groups in over 70 countries around the world. They have now formed Laughter Yoga International University to promote Laughter Yoga and provide educational and wellness programs. The laughter has been increasing health and happiness for countless people. Now, you're invited to join in the fun!