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Laughter Yoga: What is it and how does it work?

Laughter Yoga: What is it and how does it work?

Written by
Lewis Orr
May 13, 2021

Laughter Yoga: What is it and how does it work?

Madan Kataria, a family GP, is the father of laughter yoga. In the early 1990s, Kataria worked as a registrar at a Mumbai hospital. While studying medical journals he read of a curious finding- that laughter could benefit your physical and mental health. In 1995, he founded a “Laughter Club” where a group of 10-50 people would come together and tell funny stories to each other. The circle thrived. After a while, the jokes ran out, or became unsavoury, and members lost faith… what changed?

While trying to redesign his concept, Kataria made a conclusion he considered a breakthrough: “our body cannot differentiate between pretend and genuine laughter” [1]. He asked the group to act out fake laughter with him. (A demonstration of this is given by this TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4p4dZ0afivk&ab_channel=TEDxTalks.) Many felt extraordinary, as the fake laughter turned into contagious chuckling for all… This was in fact the birth of laughter yoga.

The scientific theory is that because laughter follows from great times and mental enjoyment, the first can create the second: by laughing, we can create positive emotion. There is scientific evidence of this effect. It is true that “laugher is associated with activity in the brain’s dopamine reward circuitry”[2]. Work by Manninen et al. (2017) found that “social laughter increased positive mood and calmness”[3].

The science of laughter actually has its own name- gelotology, which comes from the Greek word, gelos. The word was coined by Stanford University Professor William F. Fry, who experimented on himself in the early 1960s to determine the effects of laughter. Fry took blood samples while watching comedy movies and analysed the blood, finding that “laughter enhanced the activity of certain immune system cells responsible for killing infectious pathogens”. Fascinating stuff!

What’s the connection between laughter and yoga? Yoga, in a few words, is “calming down the fluctuations/patterns of consciousness,”[4] with evidence to suggest the practice also evokes a positive mood, decreases stress and can help regulate anxiety. Group classes often involve breathing exercises which increase breath awareness, warmups, and the rehearsal of certain postures which develop strength and flexibility. This can be standing, floor and chair work.

What does a typical laughter yoga session look like? Want to see a session in action? There will typically be basic yoga exercises accompanied by forced laughter. There is no comedy or joking. Check out the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGNOF8DVIPQ&ab_channel=GulfNews.  

A group member commented he “nearly had a heart attack” from laughing so much, as the abnormality of the exercise is entertaining. Laughter yoga has gone to sixty countries and been applied in environments as diverse as prisons, schools, and homes for the elderly. Watch this space!

[1] https://laughteryoga.org/brief-history-of-laughter-yoga-how-it-originated/

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727691-400-laughters-secrets-no-funny-business/

[3] Manninen, S., Tuominen, L., Dunbar, R.,Karjalainen, T., Hirvonen, J., Arponen, E., Hari, R., Jääskeläinen, I., Sams,M., & Nummenmaa, L. (2017). Social laughter triggers endogenous opioidrelease in humans. The Journal of Neuroscience37(25),6125–6131. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0688-16.2017

[4]This is the definition given in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, c. 4thcentury BCE.

Laughter Yoga: What is it and how does it work?

May 13, 2021

Laughter Yoga: What is it and how does it work?

Madan Kataria, a family GP, is the father of laughter yoga. In the early 1990s, Kataria worked as a registrar at a Mumbai hospital. While studying medical journals he read of a curious finding- that laughter could benefit your physical and mental health. In 1995, he founded a “Laughter Club” where a group of 10-50 people would come together and tell funny stories to each other. The circle thrived. After a while, the jokes ran out, or became unsavoury, and members lost faith… what changed?

While trying to redesign his concept, Kataria made a conclusion he considered a breakthrough: “our body cannot differentiate between pretend and genuine laughter” [1]. He asked the group to act out fake laughter with him. (A demonstration of this is given by this TED talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4p4dZ0afivk&ab_channel=TEDxTalks.) Many felt extraordinary, as the fake laughter turned into contagious chuckling for all… This was in fact the birth of laughter yoga.

The scientific theory is that because laughter follows from great times and mental enjoyment, the first can create the second: by laughing, we can create positive emotion. There is scientific evidence of this effect. It is true that “laugher is associated with activity in the brain’s dopamine reward circuitry”[2]. Work by Manninen et al. (2017) found that “social laughter increased positive mood and calmness”[3].

The science of laughter actually has its own name- gelotology, which comes from the Greek word, gelos. The word was coined by Stanford University Professor William F. Fry, who experimented on himself in the early 1960s to determine the effects of laughter. Fry took blood samples while watching comedy movies and analysed the blood, finding that “laughter enhanced the activity of certain immune system cells responsible for killing infectious pathogens”. Fascinating stuff!

What’s the connection between laughter and yoga? Yoga, in a few words, is “calming down the fluctuations/patterns of consciousness,”[4] with evidence to suggest the practice also evokes a positive mood, decreases stress and can help regulate anxiety. Group classes often involve breathing exercises which increase breath awareness, warmups, and the rehearsal of certain postures which develop strength and flexibility. This can be standing, floor and chair work.

What does a typical laughter yoga session look like? Want to see a session in action? There will typically be basic yoga exercises accompanied by forced laughter. There is no comedy or joking. Check out the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGNOF8DVIPQ&ab_channel=GulfNews.  

A group member commented he “nearly had a heart attack” from laughing so much, as the abnormality of the exercise is entertaining. Laughter yoga has gone to sixty countries and been applied in environments as diverse as prisons, schools, and homes for the elderly. Watch this space!

[1] https://laughteryoga.org/brief-history-of-laughter-yoga-how-it-originated/

[2] https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727691-400-laughters-secrets-no-funny-business/

[3] Manninen, S., Tuominen, L., Dunbar, R.,Karjalainen, T., Hirvonen, J., Arponen, E., Hari, R., Jääskeläinen, I., Sams,M., & Nummenmaa, L. (2017). Social laughter triggers endogenous opioidrelease in humans. The Journal of Neuroscience37(25),6125–6131. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0688-16.2017

[4]This is the definition given in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, c. 4thcentury BCE.