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Laughter is the best medicine. When you combine yoga breathing techniques with self-triggered bouts of laughter, you get Hasya yoga, otherwise known as ‘laughter yoga’; an exercise that concentrates more on the emotional than the physical self. This gentler form of yoga combines the physical benefits of focused breathing and the positive effects that laughter has on our bodies, giving you a stress-busting mental workout that channels your playful side and leaves you on a natural high. It does not involve contorting yourself into challenging postures, but the aim of this funny yoga is to increase the flow of oxygen around the brain, strengthen your immune system and release more of those “happy chemicals” around the body.
Laughter yoga is based on the concept that anyone can laugh for no reason. Even fake chuckles can provide as much physical and mental benefits as genuine belly laughs because the body cannot tell the difference between the two. Laughter yoga does not rely on joke telling or comedy but it tickles your funny bone through laughter exercises, chanting and general playfulness, so you don’t have to have a sense of humour to experience its benefits.
Sessions are practised in groups, focusing first on yoga breathing as a warm up before going onto laughter exercises and chanting, where you are encouraged to laugh even if you do not feel the need to. Your laughter will feel forced in the beginning, but as the session goes on, you may find yourself rolling on the floor in an uncontrollable fit of giggles for no reason - all in the name of fitness. The session concludes with laughter meditation where you are invited to relax on the floor and allow your laughter to flow through you, whether it is fake or real.
The body goes through a positive change when we laugh, so there are numerous health benefits. These can include:
When we laugh the muscles in our stomach tense and contract, giving the tummy an intense workout. Studies have shown that twenty seconds of hard stomach-clutching laughter is the equivalent to three minutes on the rowing machine, so you could literately laugh your way to a flatter stomach.
Whether you’re young or old, male or female, laughter yoga can benefit anyone. It is considered to be the most fun and natural way to improve your breathing, increase your sense of wellbeing, make you feel healthier and on a natural high, and give your tummy an intense work-out – who knew keeping healthy could be so simple?
Developed as an exercise by Dr. Madan Kataria, laughter yoga groups began in a park in Mumbai, India in 1995, and its popularity has since spread worldwide to over 60 countries.