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Reduce Stress With Laughter Yoga
Why Did I Decide to Attend Laughter Yoga?
Part of my quest to build a bionic immune system involves reducing stress in my life. It is well known that stress can cause the production of hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrin which over the long term can impact the efficiency and health of your immune system. Laughter has been proven to decrease stress hormone production, and therefore to help boost the function of the immune system. However, it isn't always easy to just "add laughter" to your daily life, but my research led me to an interesting way to meet this goal - laughter yoga.
Though my husband has been supportive and helpful with most things, he said "you are on your own with this one". I didn't even try to ask any of my friends to go with me, since I could easily predict the "are you insane?" responses. At one time in my life I would have been scared to do something like this alone, but going through a cancer diagnosis and chemotherapy completely redefined my definition of "scary". Very little seems intimidating to me in comparison. Although building my immune system requires enormous amounts of research, as well as trial and error, I still believe I can have fun along the way - so laughter yoga here I come!
What is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter Yoga is a combination of unconditional laughter and yoga breathing. It is based on the scientific theory that the body cannot differentiate between real laughter and fake laughter. Therefore, a person can benefit without having to rely on jokes and comedy - which can be important when life is throwing you a few hurdles that make it hard to see the humor.
There are four steps to follow in a typical Laughter Yoga session:
- Clapping and warming up exercises
- Deep breathing exercises
- Childlike playfulness
- Laughter exercises
For a comprehensive understanding of Laughter Yoga please check out the video. It is guaranteed to make you laugh!
Who Started the Laughter Yoga Trend?
In March 1995 Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, wrote an article called "Laughter - the Best Medicine" for his monthly health magazine. He was inspired by Norman Cousins - famous for having "laughed his way back to health". Dr. Kataria was surprised by his own research that laughter was so beneficial to health. Norman Cousins had suffered from heart disease and developed a condition called ankylosing spondylitis, which caused deterioration of the connective tissue. He was told he had very little chance of long term survival and should expect to live 6 months at best. Cousins left the hospital determined to change his negative environment, and gathered a collection of films that he found funny. He constantly watched these films and found it helped him a lot with pain management and he eventually returned to good health. He died 26 years later of heart failure after living a long life and surviving many years beyond his doctor's prediction.
What are the Benefits of Laughter Yoga?
Laughter activates the immune system by increasing T-cell activity, increasing IGA antibodies which help fight infections, and increasing the number of cells that attack cancerous cells. Also, it increases blood circulation and assists in fighting depression, lowers blood pressure, and even reduces symptoms of allergies, asthma, and arthritis, Finally, Laughter Yoga decreases the stress hormone cortisol and increases the "feel-good" hormones otherwise known as endorphins. With all these compelling health benefits (and the fact that most sessions are free of charge!) how can you not be even a little tempted to check out Laughter Yoga?
Fun Laughter Yoga Facts
- Children laugh on average 300-400 times a day but most adults laugh less than 15 times a day.
- 20 seconds of intense laughter burns the same calories as 3 minutes of intense cardio. I think this is a much more fun way to burn calories.
- Many laughter clubs also engage in philanthropic activities to help others in their country.
- Laughter exercises 15 facial muscles, replacing those wrinkles and worry lines with more youthful laugh lines.
Participating in a Laughter Yoga Session in New York City
After getting off the elevator I nervously glanced through the glass doors. The group leader opened the door with a warm greeting. He gave me a brochure and told me to watch a video explaining the Laughter Yoga concept until we were ready to begin. The guy sitting next to me was laughing hysterically through the video including during the serious parts. I wasn't laughing at all and thought there was no way I would be able to laugh during the session - but I decided I could always fake-laugh to be polite.
After a total of about 15 people had arrived, we stood in a circle and were told to make eye contact while we walked around and clapped while chanting "ho, ho, ha, ha, ha". I felt a little awkward at first and faked a laugh a few times while making eye contact and chanting. We alternated this activity with playful exercises such as pretending to floss our teeth, spray each other with a hose, and open a credit card bill and then laugh. I have to admit the very concept of opening my credit card bill during a year of financial stress and laughing really did seem funny. Finally, the general atmosphere of laughter, along with the somewhat plump leader shaking his hips during the "ho, ho" exercise forced me to laugh hysterically. I saw a cleaning person outside and could only imagine what she was thinking and that made me laugh even harder.
After the playful activities, we did a few calm breathing exercises on the mat and then were told to lie down with the lights out and give ourselves permission to laugh. It turns out laughter is infectious and I found myself laughing. The half hour session was followed by a group discussion with snacks and drinks and all. He asked us newbies what we thought and I told him I was surprised that I had been able to laugh. Other people said they had a stressful day for reasons such as work and felt so much better. The leader also asked people that have been attending on a regular basis how it affected their life. Many said they laugh more often even during serious times. Another guy said that he likes coming because he knows he is guaranteed to have a good time.
The health benefits of laughter are numerous and it is important to remember to include it in your life. My children make me truly laugh from my soul, but you can never get too much laughter. Laughter clubs now exist all over the world and many classes are free of charge, so be adventurous and drop in on a Yoga Laughter session. Cheers to good health and a lifetime of laughter!