From releasing endorphins to boosting the immune system, there is a reason that laughter is often said to be the best medicine. In a bid to harness this power, Kintsugi writer Annabelle Spranklen attempts her first laughing yoga class
‘Now, pretend to be a bird, open those wings!’ ‘Go on everyone, ruffle those feathers, open those wings, and fly!’ Arms flapping, we race around the room, chirping and cackling as loud as we can – ‘And all together now, HO-HO-HA-HA-HA, HO-HO-HA-HA-HA.’
Over the next hour we were also pretending to be bears, galloping about madly on imaginary horses and swanning along fantasy red carpets.
I’m quite sure anyone who happened to be standing outside the Claridge’s ballroom that morning might have wondered whether a toddler’s dance lesson had taken over. In fact, we were all quite sane grown ups, colleagues to be specific, and this was our first ever session of Laughter Yoga.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t embarrassingly awkward at first but as if under some kind of spell, we soon began to ease into the weirdness of it all, embracing it with both wings (and trotters), finding the whole thing hip roaringly hilarious, our work hierarchies and boundaries quickly dissolving.
To understand Laughter Yoga you need to put all your notions of mainstream yoga aside – you won’t be doing Downward Dog or sitting quietly on a mat. The philosophy behind is pretty simple – laughing, whether it’s true or forced, triggers the same physiological responses and while pretending to do it, you’ll almost always end up actually doing it.
So, during a bonkers session, where you’ll clap, skip and chant mantras, it’s near impossible not to be shaking with /real/ laughter by the end with blood pumping around your body and brain, and as a result, triggering an endorphin response that will make you feel fantastic. As we get older we often repress our laughter so a class of Laughter Yoga creates a safe space for us all to do this without judgement.
The other benefits also include giving yourself a gentle cardio and facial workout. Furthermore, a study by the psychology department at Oxford University revealed that laughter can pay a huge part in pain management with group laughter significantly raising our individual pain threshold.
The man behind Laughter Yoga is Kataria, a Mumbai doctor who came up with the idea while working on an article about the health benefits of laughter for a medical journal in the mid-Nineties.
‘I suddenly thought: if it is so good for you, why not get people laughing together, every day?’ So, Kataria and his wife started swapping jokes with local strangers in a park one morning and local curiosity piqued. The next day more people turned up and within a week, 55 strangers met.
According to Kataria, they started to run out of jokes so he decided to work on another idea – how to laugh without jokes. Returning to the group he asked them, ‘Let’s just fake laughter for one minute.’ And they all went ‘hahahahahhahahahaha’ and ‘hoohoohoo hoohoohoohoo’. Without seconds, the group had erupted into real laughter because it became so contagious.
Laughter clubs eventually popped up across Mumbai and then India, before CNN got whiff of it and then the BBC. Suddenly, laughter yoga was becoming a global sensation, like a choir for people who didn’t want to sing in tune but laugh instead. Today, there are clubs in over 70 countries, spreading yoga happiness everywhere from workplaces and schools to prisons and hospitals.
After my first session, I felt exhilarated. It was a chance to be silly and carefree for an hour, to relive that childhood playfulness that’s been snatched away. The mood stayed with me all day, I was focused and spirited, less worried and stressed out.
The best thing of all is that the main ingredient for laughter yoga is at literally everyone’s disposal. You just need to be brave enough to unleash it.