|Posted on 10 October, 2015 at 14:20|
I love yoga in almost all its forms – even those I can’t do – but Laughter Yoga is one aspect I’ve never been much interested in. I’ve experienced it a few times, but usually only as a small part of the class and it’s always struck me as forced and gimmicky. I put it in much the same box as Dog Yoga and Surfboard Yoga as “yogas” I’m unlikely to be taking part in myself. It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud. I would be pretty useless in one of those comedy audiences where they need everyone laughing uproariously. A discreet and dignified chuckle is usually the best I can manage.
So it was with a large dose of cynicism that I found myself researching Laughter Yoga for a Carer’s Session at HAD (a local community centre for people with disabilities). Apparently Laughter Yoga was what they wanted so Laughter Yoga was what they were going to get.
Naturally Google was my first point of call and I quickly discovered www.laughteryoga.org with accompanying photos of happy, laughing people who meet regularly all over the world to share laughter sessions. Apparently it all began in the early 90s when Dr Madan Kataria noticed growing scientific evidence that laughter is beneficial to both mental and physical health. He started a Laughter Club with just five people in a Mumbai public park. The numbers grew quickly to more than 50 and a good time was had by all mostly, I gather, sharing jokes and funny stories.
The problem with jokes, of course, is that what is funny to one person isn’t to another. In fact, there was a risk of some people being offended by the material used. It was at this point that Dr Kataria wondered if laughter could be produced artificially. He discovered that the body can’t tell the difference between real and pretend laughter – the same happy chemistry results from both. And best of all, pretend laughter eventually transforms into genuine laughter anyway – with no jokes necessary.
The Laughter Yoga website contains basic exercises to start off with. I incorporated these with the Pranayama techniques learnt on my teacher training courses at Yoga Professionals and Dru Yoga. I also added some of the “sillier” asanas like Lion. Once you’ve got a group sticking their tongue out at each other, a few rounds of pretend laughter doesn’t seem so silly.
The website also has a “Find your LQ (Laughter Quotient)” test to get you thinking. Despite my cynicism I scored over 78 which means I’m good at laughing but could do better. The questions have a serious side to get people thinking about their general attitude to life. None of the participants in my workshop have had easy lives and some carry very heavy burdens caring for loved ones with very serious disabilities. Others have lost family members suddenly and tragically. I was very conscious of my responsibility to their emotional and physical wellbeing. One lady was in a wheelchair and others clearly had health and mobility difficulties. Although I encouraged everyone who could to get up and moving I planned for the session to start and ended in chairs. I kept the initial discussion brief and moved quickly onto the Pawanmuktasana series of movements to warm up, gradually intensifying the mood to a point where everyone was comfortable Ha, Ha, Ha-ing and Ho, Ho, Ho-ing moving their hands from their chest to their belly. It was a bit like an out of season group audition for Shopping Centre Santa Clauses!
Having enjoyed the release of a good belly laugh with Manipura Chakra well and truly activated I took care to gradually bring the group down to earth. Holding on to the happy feeling I led them through a seated yoga nidra. The whole session lasted 90 minutes with everyone keen for a return workshop sometime soon.
I’d thoroughly recommend Laughter Yoga now. We all really did feel good afterwards and it was much easier than I thought to do. If you get a chance, why not give it a go? You’ve got nothing to lose other than a bit of dignity!
For more information check out www.laughteryoga.org/english/laughteryoga/details/97
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