What is laughter Yoga?

Laughter yoga uses planned, simulated laughter as a form of physical exercise. During a session, a specialist practitioner guides the group through a variety of playful activities designed to encourage intentional laughter. This involves everything from clapping, chatting and chanting, to acting out visualisations. As you can imagine, it’s easy for these self-initiated giggling fits to turn into genuine, contagious guffawing as the session goes on.

Laughter yoga is built around the philosophy that combining laughter with deep yoga breathing brings more oxygen to the body and brain. This leads to biological and physiological changes that offer wellness benefits including improving mood and helping you with tension.

So why is it called ‘yoga’? The yogic aspect comes from the deep breathing and gentle stretches that are interspersed between the laughter exercises. The purpose of the yogic breathing is to deepen your laughter and increase oxygen intake, to enhance the therapeutic effects of laughter.

Benefits of Laughter Yoga

Laughing on purpose is a valuable self-help tool that can increase your confidence, help you to deal with emotional challenges, and so much more.

It’s widely understood that laughter is possibly the best medicine – because most of us feel better after we’ve had a good laugh. There’s more to it than that though, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Three amazing points about laughter:

Laughter has terrific health and therapeutic benefits;

Even if you’re just pretending to laugh, it will still do you good, as the mind and body can’t tell the difference. You’ll still get the same physiological and psychological benefits.

You don’t have to have any particular sense of humour or anything funny to laugh about (in fact humour and laughter aren’t directly linked). You’ll find that if you just start making laughter sounds – even in a half-hearted way – it’ll become real laughter quite quickly.

Learn the 6 ways Laughter can improve Children's Wellbeing

Here’s some of the wonderful things that laughing can do for you:

Lifts low mood and is a natural painkiller.

Laughter therapy releases endorphins and other feel-good hormones. These are released into the bloodstream straight away, and they also help to relieve pain.

Reduces stress.

The level of the stress hormone (cortisol) has been shown to drop after lengthy bouts of laughter. Laughing also loosens you up so that your muscles relax and physical tension is relieved. This can last for a while afterwards, so the more regularly you laugh, the less ongoing tenseness and stress you feel.

Boosts your immune system.

The levels of anti-viral and anti-infection cells increase, so you are more resistant to illness and disease. Research shows that the cells that fight cancer are increased too.

Provides you with aerobic exercise.

Laughing increases oxygen to the body and brain. This is because when you laugh for a few minutes, you take in great gulps of air in between laughs. This increase in oxygen helps you to focus and to feel more energised.

Increases circulation and protects your heart.

Laughing increases the flow of blood, and the function of your blood vessels is improved. Laughter can stimulate circulation to the digestive and lymphatic systems, which helps to flush out toxins and waste – and also helps your skin to glow! A healthy heart means you less at risk from a heart attack.

Burns up calories.

Over a period of time, regular laughing can help you to lose weight.

Encourages you to play.

Childlike playfulness is so important. If you think about little children playing, they are uninhibited, curious, spontaneous, creative and have a real sense of fun and freedom. Adults can learn so much from little children.

Embracing an attitude of childlike playfulness frees you up to be you. It enables you to tap in to inspiration, and be open to new possibilities. Playing can also help you to solve problems more effectively, as many studies have shown.

Increases self-esteem and confidence.

As you relax into laughter you have nothing to fear. There is no need to hold back as you start to trust that it’s ok to laugh out loud – especially when with others.

If this is an area that is very challenging for you, start by smiling more. This will soon turn into a giggle – especially when you are with other people, because laughing is so contagious! You’ll find your inhibitions will dissipate quickly – I have seen this happen time and time again.

Social connection.

Laughter brings people together because it’s fun, funny, infectious and inviting. You’re more likely to laugh when around others than when you are on your own – although this doesn’t have to be the case, as I’ll discuss later.

But it is a wonderful thing to share. There’s something about that connection, that twinkle in the eye that is so affirming – and magical, when it turns into a giggle! A bond is created between you which is positive, and which can strengthen. Therefore, laughing together creates friendships.

Heals and strengthens personal relationships.

Laughing with friends and family can diffuse hidden tensions and improve the communication between you.

It’s a subtle thing, because it changes the atmosphere between you in a positive way. It softens and often dissipates smouldering, fiery or dark energy, and replaces it with bright, clean space and an instant opportunity for positive changes to occur.

Shifts your perspective and helps you to deal with conflict more effectively.

You can’t be angry, stressed or overwhelmed when you are laughing, because when you really laugh you are completely present in the moment. This helps you to take an emotional step back, and to be more open to new meanings and inspiration.

Helps to lessen the negative personal impact of challenging situations and give you the ability to deal with them more effectively.

When you laugh you give yourself some respite. You can distance yourself emotionally for a little while, as you are fully present in your laughter. This does change your perspective, and you get all the other benefits of laughing too, so that as you face the situation again you feel better and have a refreshed outlook.

Can dislodge blocked emotions.

As you move, so you feel. Your physiology always has an effect on how you think and how you feel, and even tiny changes in movement and posture can have a real impact. Also, laughter has elements in common with crying (have you ever laughed until you cried?) It is therefore an excellent non-violent way to release pent-up feelings.

Helps you to sleep.

Many people say that they sleep a great deal better for having laughed for a sustained period of time, as in Laughter Yoga sessions.

I suggest you laugh whenever you can, for a fantastic, free, instant joy boost!

In particular though, laugh on purpose whenever you can, both on your own and with others. In doing so you free your spirit to soar and your soul to shine, and you release more joy into the world.

Learn the 6 ways Laughter can improve Children's Wellbeing

History of Laughter Yoga

In the early 90s an Indian medic, Dr. Madan Kataria, worked as a registrar in a local hospital in Mumbai, and also wrote papers for medical journals. In his scholarly work he became interested in the growing body of scientific evidence showing that laughter was extremely beneficial to mental and physical health. He decided that more laughter was needed to improve health and cope with the stress of modern living and started a quest to find ways that laughter could be prescribed to patients and people who needed it.

At 7am on 13 March 1995, Dr Kataria and his wife Madhuri Kataria entered their local public park and persuaded 4 people to join in the very first ‘laughter club’. The small group stood in a circle, exchanging jokes. They enjoyed themselves — and bystanders also were amused.

Daily, they met and numbers grew to more than 50 participants within days.

After 2 weeks, they hit a snag: the stock of good jokes and stories ran out; hurtful, negative and naughty jokes started to emerge.

What could be done to overcome participants being offended or embarrassed?

In reviewing his research, Dr Kataria fond the breakthrough answer: our bodies cannot differentiate between acted and genuine laughter. Both produced the same ‘happy chemistry’.

The next morning he explained this to the group and asked them to try something new: they would laugh without jokes. He asked everyone to laugh with him for one minute. Amid skepticism they agreed to try…

The results were amazing. The group acted out laughter. After a moment, a few people burst into real laughter at their ‘silliness’. Soon the group was laughing like never before, hearty laughter lasting for almost 10 minutes.

From this, Dr Kataria went on to develop a range of laughter exercises, tapping into role-play and childlike playfulness.

To this day, Madan Kataria is still the leading Laughter Yoga practitioner in the world.


How to do Laughter Yoga

Unlike a lot of workout and yoga activities, Laughter Yoga is more of a group practice than an individual one. In one of my laughter sessions I guide the group through a set of activities to encourage them to let go of their inhibitions and laugh freely.  Since Covid 19 I’ve been doing sessions online and I’m really pleased to say there has been no issues with people getting all of the benefits of Laughter Yoga remotely. However, I understand that some people may feel uncomfortable laughing in groups so I thought I’d share some tips on how to do Laughter Yoga at home.

Step 1: Warming Up

Start by stimulating your acupressure points through a hearty clapping session. Keep your palm fully open and try for a full hand to hand contact. To further elevate the energy levels, keep increasing the clapping speed. You can also move your hands up and down and sway them from side to side for full-body warm-up.  

Step 2: Chant

While you are gearing up for the yoga session through the clapping activity, you can start by a simple and light chant that prepares you and your vocal cords for the laughter riot that is to come. Go for a normal ‘HO, HO, HO, HA-HA-HA’. Now, as you level up and put in more energy, try to ensure that the chanting ‘Ho, Ho, Ho, Ha, Ha, Ha’ sounds are coming from your belly. This will stimulate the diaphragmatic breathing and help you with good, loud laughter later.  

Step 3: Deep Breathing 

Before you start your Laughter Yoga session you can begin to detoxify your lungs. Simple deep breathing exercises will prepare your body for the activities to come and bring physical and mental relaxation simultaneously.  Pull in a deep breath until your lungs are full, then hold for a beat, before exhaling. Repeat this exercise until you feel nice and relaxed.

Step 4: Relax And Let Go

Adopting child-like behaviours is the best way to ensure that you have a great and beneficial laughter yoga session. During my sessions my main job is helping people lose their inhibitions. If you want to know how to do laughter yoga at home then it can be as easy as relaxing and not caring about anything but the moment. Forget about what anybody thinks and pretend you’re the only person in the world. When you finally let go you’ll feel a sense of enormous well-being.

Step 5: Laughter Time

Once you are all set with the warm and all prepared, it is time to go for a hearty laughter session. And while there is no right or wrong way to laugh, here are a few Laughter yoga exercises that you can try for optimum results:

Cell Phone Laughter: Hold an imaginary cell phone to your ear and laugh.

Gradient Laughter: Fake a smile; giggle, then laugh slowly and gradually increase in tempo and volume.

Hearty Laughter: Spread your arms up, look up and laugh heartily as you direct your laughter to come straight from your heart.

No Money Laughter: Laugh as turn your pockets inside out looking for money that isn’t there.

Mental floss laugh: Imagine that you have wrapped a thread of dental floss between your fingers. Now imagine threading the floss between your ears to clear out the ‘stinking thinking’ that can build up, like dental plaque, in the mind. Jiggle it around, to and fro, while laughing. Then throw the ‘floss’ and the worries away.

That’s just a few of the many exercises that Laughing Yoga involves. Hopefully this advice lets you know how to do Laughter Yoga at home.

Is Laughter Yoga for me?

Laughter yoga sessions and laugh therapy sessions can be used by anyone and everyone. The health benefits of spontaneous laughter or voluntary laughter can be embraced by young and old alike. The beauty of Laughter yoga is that it doesn’t matter if it is real laughter or simulated laughter; your body is unable to tell the difference. The laughing workout has no limitations on who takes part in it. Everyone, despite their age, can participate in this type of yoga, and can be especially beneficial for;

Professionals Working in a Stressful Environment

These days, so many of us have jobs which are stressful. There seems to never be enough hours in the day to do everything expected of us. Our bodies can cope with stress for a certain period of time before it starts having a negative impact on our health and mental well-being.

A Laughter Yoga session is an excellent opportunity to help with the stress management in our lives and can help us cope with the trials of the day to day grind. After a Laughter Yoga session you will feel ready to spend time focussed on what is important in your life.

Elder and senior people

Due to age, many senior members of society live a lonely life. They have no one to check over them or share fun moments together. In essence, some people take their senior members to hospice or elderly homes. This act ensures that they receive the right care and attention. 

Loneliness can result in stress among elderly persons. For this reason, laughter yoga can be a perfect idea for this group. Whether in the elderly homes or hospices, the administrators can group the senior members and engage them in the laughter exercises. This way, they will promote healing and lengthen the elders’ lifespan. 

Everyone needing to relieve stress  

With age, people become busy and have tight schedules. The day-to-day activities limit your opportunity to enjoy fun moments that stimulate laughter. With this understanding, laughter yoga is a refuge for anyone seeking to deal with stressful aspects or promote the laughing culture.

Unlike relying on other people to bring out joy, laughter yoga teaches you some techniques to in still laughing. You will perform some simple activities like rhythmic clapping and uttering some words that stimulate a laughter session.

So there you have it, the ultimate guide to laughter yoga. If you would like to learn more about becoming a laughter yoga trainer, check out the laughter yoga training page.

I hope to laugh with you soon.