Laughing Fit with Yoga


By Michele Bacigalupo

Photo courtesy of Vishwa Prakash.

Many woes and stresses are associated with fitness. However, we should realize that many exercise techniques can be fun–and even funny.

Consider Laughter Yoga, an interactive group activity where participants encourage each other to laugh by acting silly and childish. The concept of Laughter Yoga was initially developed in India in 1995, and has since expanded to over 70 countries.

It’s been scientifically proven that the human body cannot tell the difference between authentic and forced laughter. A person receives the same physiological and psychological benefits no matter the source of the laugh.

While it’s true that many people would feel more relaxed following a 60-minute yoga class, the atmosphere of Laughter Yoga is likely to improve a person’s mood within the first few minutes. From the sound of the first giggle, endorphins infiltrate the brain, instantly elevating one’s mood.

There are also a number of health benefits associated with laughter. Laughter is proven effective in strengthening the immune system and lowering blood pressure. It also ignites the chemical dopamine in the brain, alleviating tension, stress, and symptoms of depression. Laughter decreases the level of stress hormones in the bloodstream, such as cortisol and epinephrine.

Remarkably, laughing provokes similar health advantages to intense aerobic exercise. In fact, the act of laughing activates heart and blood circulation in the same manner as jogging does to the body.

Laughter Yoga expands the range of a person’s emotional flexibility, a trait that allows an individual to experience and appreciate the intrinsic value of various emotions across the spectrum.

I was fortunate to take a Yogalaff class myself. Yogalaff is a weekly Laughter Yoga workshop led by Vishwa Prakash, a self-described “laughter therapist and happiologist” located in Manhattan.

The laughter that powers the class is encouraged and essential. When the class first began, we started with some warm-up exercises. In those first five minutes, the “hos” and “has” felt unnatural. The recommended eye contact with other class participants seemed like an overwhelming request. But as the other people in the room began to grow more comfortable with the exercises, the environment, and each other, the laughter became like second nature. The chuckling flowed smoothly around the room, much like the groove of a sun salutation.

Each laughter practice was quick and concise. In the beginning of class these exercises resembled ice-breaking games. They were slightly uncomfortable, albeit relatively innocuous. After about 10 minutes however, I could hear the forced laughter becoming more genuine. I stopped thinking about how I appeared to this new group of people. Consequently I was able to focus more on the silliness of the activities being presented.

After the sense of familiarity and trust set in, the exercises began to feel more like a well-known choreographed dance, one in which I was eager to show off my expertise. Once I noticed the change in my perspective, I began to really enjoy the humor and absurdity of the situation.

The greatest draw of Yogalaff is that it brings people of all ages and backgrounds together in one place. The atmosphere of the class inspires a bonding experience amongst its participants. People enter the class from all different walks of life, but they exit with a newfound sense of unity.

This particular Yogalaff workshop was not stressful in the slightest. I was surprised to learn that the class could be taken wearing any type of clothing, including street clothes or jeans. Beside myself, everybody there was a returning member, yet there were no egos or attitudes detectable in the room. Everyone acted friendly and inviting towards me, making me feel welcome from the moment I arrived.

Immediately, I noticed the infectious smiles that everybody wore as they exchanged small talk and pleasantries before class. They spoke about laughter–how much of it they had been doing lately and how to implement even more throughout the upcoming weekend and holiday season.

The benefits associated with Laughter Yoga are well worth the investment of taking the occasional class. After experiencing the practice, people will feel more equipped to conquer daily challenges with a positive attitude. Participants can expect an elevated rise in mood, as well as a lowering of the emotional threshold. They will be inclined to laugh more often than they did before taking the class.

Perhaps the most enjoyable medicine and least expensive form of therapy, an increased dose of laughter is guaranteed to improve a person’s quality of life. Many Laughter Yoga workshops are offered for free and the movement is gaining in popularity all over the world.

Taking a note from Yogalaff, I implore people to consciously implement a more light-hearted attitude towards exercise and everyday life. Finding the humor in unexpected situations is an essential life skill for enjoying each day to the fullest.