Saturday, March 10, 2007

Laughing For No Reason


My daughter and I recently attended our first laughter yoga session. This is a weird and wonderful blending of yogic deep breathing, stretching exercises, and sustained group laughter. The session we attended was facilitated by a wonderfully upbeat and affirming instructor who helped me feel immediately at ease. This was a great relief because I went into the room concerned that I would feel too awkward and self-conscious to laugh in front of the 20 or 30 people gathered there. The entire session lasted 45 minutes, both Casey and I had a great time, and I continued to feel the positive effects from it for days afterwards.

Laughter yoga, or “hasya yoga” was founded in 1995 in India by a man named Madan Kataria, a doctor and student of yoga. In doing reasearch for a article he was writing Dr. Kateria discovered an overwhelming body of scientific literature that described in great detail the proven benefits of laughter on the human mind and body. And with that, the concept of laughing for no reason was born. His wife Madhuri Kataria brought in her experience as a yoga teacher and suggested gentle breathing and other yoga exercises be included in the routine to deepen its impact.

Laughter yoga groups have spread all around the world in the interevening 12 years, with more that 5000 "laughter clubs" in 40 countries, including several in the Atlanta area. The largest such gathering so far was over 10,000 people who came together in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2000 for “Happy-Demic”. Imagine that many people laughing for no reason!

It seems pretty common knowledge that laughter is good medicine for a person’s physical and mental health. Dr. Kataria’s contention is that the human mind doesn't make a distinction between faked and genuine laughter. Either one produces happy chemistry. You do not need to have a sense of humor, to be happy or to have a reason to engage in laughter yoga. to laugh. According to the Laugh Angeles Foundation website, the "primary goal is to exercise using rapid contractions of the diaphragm as a way to flush our lungs and through it our whole body with fresh oxygen, strengthen the immune system and boost "happy" chemistry. One cannot go through the physical motions of happiness without creating the very chemistry of happiness."

The 45 minute ssession Casey and I attended is held at 7:30 pm on the first Wednesday of each month at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Atlanta, lcoated at 1911 Cliff Valley Way. The facilitator, Jean Woodall, used a variety of fun exercises to invoke laughter in the participants.

One exercise involved walking around the group participants looking at each other with an angry expression and then changing to laughter. Another technique that could work in everyday life involved laughing while pretending to talk on a cell phone. Yet another exercise involved starting with a slight smile, then emitting a very small laugh, and slowly intensifying the laughter until the room is filled with guffaws. While I sometimes found that I was “faking it”, making laughing noises without really feeling genuine about it, almost invariably the sound of laughter became contagious and I found myself genuinely laughing.

I was surprised at how intense a physical workout this was. At the end of the brief session my throat was dry, I could tell my muscles had been engaged in a strenuous work-out, and I felt alive and vibrant. Casey, who was the only child in attendance this night, likewise experienced the positive efects of this experience.

Sunday May 6th, 2007 will be the annual World Laughter Day, and Jean has rented the gazebo in the Decatur town square for the occasion. Her goal is to have at least 100 people gather to share laughter in concert with other groups around the world. I plan to be there. Come join me and let's laugh for no reason!

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