By: Helen T. Whitley
Did you know there are more than 6,000 laughter clubs around the globe designed to promote good physical and mental health, a joyful spirit, and world peace? Social workers are quickly discovering Laughter YogaTM, a new body-mind fitness craze that is sweeping the world. Laughter Yoga is a dynamic, simple stress-reducing activity, appropriate for all sectors of social work, especially in health care, geriatric settings, academic, and mental health settings. Since their origins in 1995, laughter clubs have popped up in more than sixty countries, with classes led by trained Certified Laughter Yoga Leaders. Clubs are usually free and open to the public.
A Laughter Retreat
As a licensed clinical social worker with a busy psychotherapy practice, I was feeling very burned out in the summer of 2006, when I discovered this new form of body-mind fitness. To cope with my stress, I went to a peaceful yoga retreat in the mountains of North Georgia. After settling in, I looked at the class schedule. On it was a class called “Laughter Yoga.” Just seeing the name brought a smile to my face. I couldn’t wait to see what it was about.
That Saturday, I stumbled upon a novel way to reduce stress, improve my mood, and connect with others. The funny thing was I was the only person there for the class besides the teacher! It was a slow week at the retreat, and the other summer guests were whitewater rafting that day.
The teacher was grinning from ear to ear as we realized I was the only student. She assured me I would enjoy it anyway. I must have laughed with this woman for about 45 minutes. We did one laughter exercise after another, breathing and stretching in between. My self-consciousness quickly faded away as the laughter connected us. After the exercise portion, she led me through a “laughter meditation.” This part of the class allows the body to cool down, thus deriving the most benefit from the laughter. By the end of the session, I was crying with laughter, releasing what felt like years of pent-up stress in my body. It didn’t hurt that this woman had one of the most contagious laughs in North Georgia. I could hardly stop the giggles from flowing.
After the class, I wanted to learn more. The teacher generously answered my questions, as she was happy to find a kindred spirit. She showed me global media footage that touched me deeply. I watched senior citizens; college students; cancer patients; and even blind, deaf, and mute children doing it. I was weeping as I saw the joy in their faces. I was simply amazed. This was exactly what I needed. No coincidence here.
The creator of Laughter Yoga had come all the way from India to train a group of new teachers at the retreat just months before I arrived. I couldn’t believe I had missed him. I thought it would be a fun way to combat the stress of my practice and get out of my head and into my body. With positive psychology gaining more and more popularity and acceptance, I could clearly see this technique was on the cutting edge of wellness. My husband is a certified hypnotherapist and NLP master practitioner, so this would be a natural extension of his practice, too. What a no-brainer! I was so excited about this new way of infusing laughter into my own and other people' lives. As it turned out, my teacher was able to train us later that year as leaders; the first of two levels of training. In 2007, Dr. Kataria came to Miami, Florida, where we completed the teacher training with like-minded people from all over the world. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. I have never laughed that much in my life.
Fake It Until You Make It-Laughing For No Reason
Dr. Madan Kataria created Laughter Yoga in a flash of inspiration in 1995. He was a practicing family physician, and his wife, Madhuri, a yoga teacher. In a review of the literature on laughter, he realized laughter offers numerous physical and mental health benefits.
Amazingly, the research showed that our body does not know the difference between real and simulated laughter. Therefore, the concept of “laughing for no reason” was born. There is no need for comedy, humor, or jokes to get the benefit from laughing, and almost anyone can participate.