As an avid yoga goer (I try to go at least 3 times a week) the idea of practicing while voluntarily laughing feels a little unconventional. Most people typically go to yoga to zen out, flow hard, and escape into silent bliss. Truth be told, laughter yoga may sound kind of gimmicky, but it can actually be incredibly cathartic. The old “laughter is the best medicine” saying has to count for something.
I found out about laughter yoga while researching yoga retreats abroad. While yoga as a practice continues to become exceedingly more and more popular, new forms begin to emerge. And honestly, if people can get on board with “goat yoga,” laughter yoga doesn’t seem that far fetched. Developed by Indian doctor Madan Kataria in 1995, laughter yoga (or hasyayoga, as it’s traditionally called) combines laughter with traditional yogic breathing, which is said to increase overall wellness and happiness. Intrigued by the idea that forcing oneself to laugh in-between flows can improve one’s state of mind, I decided to dig in deeper to find out what the fuss was all about.
What is laughter yoga?
Traditionally called hasyayoga, typically involves a combination of laughing exercises and yoga breathing in a group class setting. Sessions can run from 30 minutes to an hour and usually begin with breathing techniques followed by a series of laughter exercises. According to proponents, what starts out as forced or fake laughter becomes genuine and contagious as class goers start to warm up and break down their inhibitions.
The benefits are real.
No surprise here, but the physiological and emotional benefits of laughter yoga are aplenty. According to a study by Oxford University, when we laugh, mood-lifting endorphins are released and pain thresholds become significantly higher. This was found to be due to laughter itself rather than the mood of the subject. Laughter also decreases the body’s production of cortisol, which is a hormone that is released by the adrenal glands into the bloodstream during times of stress. Other benefits include a healthy boost to your immune system and overall mood.
You’ll leave feeling more connected.
According to research, laughter (whether voluntary or not) produces an “endorphin-mediated opiate effect,” which plays a crucial role in social bonding. When endorphins and serotonin are released into our brain, our level of happiness increases. Not only is it a great cure for banishing seasonal depression, but you’ll more than likely leave class feeling like you’ve made great connections.
Is the idea of laughter yoga a bit weird? Perhaps. But the slew of benefits definitely override any reservations I may have previously had about taking the class. In a never-ending quest to find the things that help improve mental health and wellness, one may have to think outside the box every now and then.
If you’re interested in checking out laughing yoga, here are a few cool places to add a few giggles into your flow.
The Laughter Yoga Salon, New York, NY
Pearl Studios, 8th Avenue 4th floor (off 35th Street)
Maha Rose, Brooklyn, NY
97 Green St G3
Laughter Yoga Northridge, Los Angeles, CA
The Laughter Yoga Institute, Laguna Beach, CA
Bird Rock Beach, Laguna Beach (Pacific Coast Highway at Broadway/Route 133)