The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj”, meaning to yoke, to integrate, to harmonise. It means union, or connection – with your own body, with your thoughts, with the world around you, your environment, and also your breath. Your breath acts as a bridge between your mind and your body – a constant exchange of energy, a mirroring between your physical and mental being – when you deepen your breath, you calm your body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. When you calm your body, you calm your mind, and when both your mind and your body are at ease, then you start to become more relaxed in the present moment. This ability to be fully present in “the now” is the key to finding happiness, because we can only experience happiness in this present moment. We cannot feel an emotion in the past or the future, only now. Being present allows us to forget about the emotions of our past and the anxieties of the future, and enjoy simply being.
The practice of yoga asana, which is what most of us would recognise as yoga, is a means of using the unity of mind, body and breath to find joy in the present moment, as are meditation and mindfulness practices. Laughter yoga, however, takes a slightly different approach – there are no physical requirements or limitations to practicing laughter yoga, which makes it a universal option for people seeking a happiness practice but who are unable to practice hatha yoga.
Scientific research has proven that laughter has a documented positive impact on mental and physical well-being, as a form of complementary preventative and therapeutic medicine. In March 1995 Dr Madan Kataria, a GP from Mumbai, India, was curious about the practice, having researched the benefits and discovered a man who claimed to have recovered from a terminal illness by using laughter yoga as his main form of therapy. Kataria began a laughter yoga group, starting with just 4 people and growing to over 50 people, encouraging his participants to release their inner childlike playfulness out of its learned confines. He started with sharing jokes and anecdotes, but the jokes soon became tired and old, and then he realised that if just one person was laughing, the others were more likely to laugh – not necessarily because the joke was funny, but because they enjoyed seeing another person laugh. As they say, laughter is contagious, and he realised that there didn’t need to be something to laugh ABOUT – the magic lay in the act of laughing itself. They started making up mime and other laughter exercises – doing normal daily activities in the group but laughing the whole time. Madan’s wife, Madhuri Kataria, suggested the addition of some breathing exercises in between the laughter exercises, which incorporates the yogic connection.
The groups started small, then began to expand in size as people began to reap the benefits. The behaviour was undeniably strange, but the health benefits were real, so more and more laughter clubs started up. Nowadays there are thousands of laughter clubs around the world, and there are also a number of organisations encouraging laughter yoga as a means of finding peace and happiness, of developing a positive community, bringing together people from all walks of life, and healing physical and emotional illnesses.
We are happiest and when we are playing, and to laugh means to be in the present moment fully, free from anxieties and fears. We’ve all heard it before, and there’s nothing like a good belly laugh, but now we know: laughter really is the best medicine!
For more info:
Action for Happiness is a movement for positive social change, bringing together people from all walks of life who want to play a part in creating a happier society for everyone. actionforhappiness.org
R x Laughter develops & implements projects that examine the positive health benefits of entertainment to reduce or alleviate the trauma of serious physical and emotional issues of children and adults. www.rxlaughter.org
www.laughteryoga.org is the site of Dr Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga.