Many forms of yoga have been developed over the centuries by serious practitioners who strive for the benefits of mind-body balance. Popular styles of yoga include Ashtanga, Hatha, Iyengar and many more. But if the thought of mindful meditation in a somber setting is not your cup of chai tea, there is good news for you.
Laughter Yoga, a relatively new, alternative form of yoga that incorporates laughter with movement and breathing exercises, aims to cultivate joy, spark creativity, reduce stress and even boost your immune system, says Jenna Pascual, a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader and Life Coach on Maui. She started her Laughter Yoga career teaching at senior community centers in San Francisco before being hired to teach the technique at companies like Google, LinkedIn and Salesforce. She now offers a variety of laughter sessions on Maui and is willing to travel off-island, and host virtual sessions, as well.
The practice designed by Dr. Madan Kataria in India in 1995 combines playful exercises and deep breathing to promote wellness, happiness and lots of laughter. Proving that laughter really is contagious, the practice has spread rapidly around the world, with about 5,000 laughter yoga clubs worldwide — roughly 200 of those in the US.
“It’s called laughter yoga because of the deep belly, yogic breathing that takes place when we laugh,” says Jenna. “It helps people live happier, healthier lives.”
The practice involves prolonged, voluntary laughter. This type of yoga is based on the idea that you can “trick” your body. Studies show that laughter can be faked; the human body does not recognize the difference between “real” and “simulated” laughter. Both provide similar physiological and psychological benefits.
So laughter really is the best medicine, whether sparked by a joke or induced voluntarily using Laughter Yoga. More giggles and guffaws are just what the doctor ordered, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sustained laughter for 10 to 15 minutes a day can produce a range of health benefits. Laughter increases your heart rate and oxygen levels, which both improve the functioning of blood vessels and blood circulation. Laughing can help relieve pain, may help reduce blood pressure, and may also help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems. Laughter can also help improve your self-esteem, lessen your stress, depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier.
No yoga mats or poses are needed. Breathing exercises are used to prepare the lungs for laughter, followed by a series of laughter exercises that combine acting and visualization techniques. Laughter exercises are interspersed with breathing exercises. Sessions may start with gentle warmup techniques that include finger exercises
to stimulate acupressure points, which activates organs. Ho, ho, ha, ha, ha! Warmups may also include imaginary bubble popping movement and laughter, and rollercoaster laughing.
If those don’t break down inhibitions and make you feel good, nothing will! Go ahead! Feel better by laughing along with Jenna.
“He who laughs, lasts!” — Mary Pettibone Poole