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health benefits of laughter yoga

Laughter Yoga: Definition, Benefits & Exercises

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You may have heard of hatha yoga, ashtanga yoga or even power yoga, but what about laughter yoga? Proven to have numerous benefits for both physical and mental health, it’s no wonder that laughter yoga is becoming increasingly popular all over the world. After all, laughter is the best medicine!

In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about its history, the laughter yoga benefits, how to do it, and what you can expect from a class. We’ve also included some recommended YouTube channels and books, and some basic exercises so that you can practice laughter yoga alone at home.

Have you ever thought about pursuing a career in the health and fitness industry? If so, check out our range of personal training courses now or download a free course prospectus for information on all of the courses that we offer at OriGym.

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What is Laughter Yoga?

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Laughter yoga (or Hasyayoga) is a modern form of yoga that combines prolonged simulated laughter with breathing exercises and movement. Much like traditional yoga, the overall aim of the practice is to link the body and the mind. 

In a typical yoga laughter yoga session, this is done through connecting a sequence of poses (asanas) with the breath (pranayama). However, what makes laughter yoga therapy different from other forms of yoga is that it involves a series of specific simulated laughter exercises. 

Laughter exercises are a series of movements, chants, stretches and breathing techniques that are designed to encourage laughter. However, there are no jokes or comedy in laughter yoga - the laughter comes solely as a result of the exercises. It’s just about laughing for the sake of laughing! 

Although the laughter starts as forced, yogis find that they are soon genuinely laughing and if practiced in a group, the laughter becomes infectious. Studies have shown that the body cannot tell the difference between spontaneous and forced laughter, so you can still reap all the amazing health benefits of laughter.

Anyone can do it, even seniors and children. Even if you think of yourself as a shy, introverted or serious person, laughter yoga is still for you! It doesn’t require any special clothing or equipment and just like traditional yoga, you can do it anywhere. 

Although you can practice laughter yoga therapy alone, the benefits are most effective when done in a group session. Eye contact, playfulness, and connecting with others are important parts of a laughter yoga session. The classes are safe spaces where you are encouraged to really let go and release your inner child!

It may sound like an easy workout, but it is physical too! Laughter exercises are combined with movement, so there are many physical as well as mental health benefits of laughter yoga, which we will explore further in this article.

To learn more about the various kinds of yoga, check out our recent blog post comparing Hatha Yoga vs Vinyasa Yoga here or read the OriGym guide to Yin Yoga.

What is The History of Laughter Yoga?

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Laughter yoga is largely based on the idea of ‘laughter therapy’, which was developed in the 1960s by Dr William F. Fry. This is the idea that laughter can be used as a form of treatment for physical and mental health problems. This sparked more research into laughter therapy and the advantages of laughter became clear!

It was against this backdrop that laughter yoga was born. It was started by Dr. Madan Kataria in Mumbai, India in 1995. Dr Kataria was a family physician who was concerned about the mental wellbeing of people living in the over-populated busy city.

He believed that laughter could be a way for people to deal with the stress of modern life. He decided to start a ‘Laughter Club’ in a local park, where a group (initially only five people) met and simply told jokes to each other. He noticed that as well as laughing at the jokes, people laughed when they saw other people laughing. He started to realise that laughter is contagious.

Seeing how much his group was improving people’s moods and reducing their stress levels, he started to devise his own laughter exercises to simulate that feeling of organic, child-like laughter. And so, laughter yoga was born! Now there are over 5000 laughter yoga clubs all around the world.

What Are The Benefits of Laughter Yoga?

1. Improves Mood and Reduces Stress

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Yoga has long been proven to have a significant positive effect on mental health, and laughter yoga is no different. In fact, there are tons of advantages of laughter yoga, one being that it's arguably the best mood-boosting workout you can do!

We all know that laughing makes us feel good, but what is the science behind it? Just like any other form of physical activity, when we laugh, the body releases a burst of mood-enhancing hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. It also reduces the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. These chemical reactions all have an immediate positive effect on your mood within minutes!

Laughing is a cathartic experience and is a great way to release blocked emotions, frustration or anger. The findings of a recent study by the Journal of Affective Disorders suggested confirmed these laughter yoga benefits with results that showed laughter yoga reduced the symptoms of depression. 

The study found that those who practiced laughter yoga regularly reported to have a more optimistic outlook on life and were able to have a better grip on negative emotions. 

The laughter yoga meditation section at the end of a class is also a great way to prompt relaxation, which in turn reduces stress.

Even after a laughter yoga session, your smile and good mood will continue throughout the day! This will then have a positive impact on all aspects of your life. In work for example, you’ll have more concentration and a more productive attitude. 

For that reason, many businesses around the world have started encouraging their staff to practice laughter yoga, as it improves productivity, cultivates creativity and helps build positive connections in the workplace.  

Laughter yoga is just one of many styles of yoga. To broaden your knowledge of yoga, why not have a read of our recent article discussing 24 different types of yoga.

2. Combats Loneliness 

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Loneliness is an increasing problem for people of all ages, all over the world. According to the Mental Health Foundation, 78% of adults have felt lonely at some point in their lives and 42% of people have felt depressed because of feeling lonely.  

When practiced in a group, laughter yoga therapy is a great way to combat loneliness. A huge part of the class is about connecting with others. The instructor will encourage you to make eye contact and interact with each other. 

This naturally means that you will form positive social bonds with others, which is a huge factor in reducing loneliness and improving mental health. 

3. Improves Cardiovascular Health 

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As well as improving mental health, another one of the advantages of laughter yoga is that it has a positive impact on physical health too. If high-impact cardio like running isn’t your thing, this could be for you. 

In fact, a study from Stanford University found that just 10 minutes of hearty belly laughter has the same cardiovascular benefits of 30 minutes on a rowing machine! 

Like any other form of aerobic exercise, laughing stimulates blood flow around the body and pumps blood to the heart. This in turn can reduce the likelihood of heart disease, heart attacks and can help to reduce blood pressure.  

Laughter yoga is therefore a great exercise for people of all physical abilities and fitness backgrounds.

Find the full list of pros and cons of yoga in general here!

4. Improves Lung Health

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Another one of the health benefits of laughter yoga is that it's great for lung health. When we laugh, more oxygen is pumped around the body and to the lungs, which has a positive impact on a whole host of health conditions!

For this reason, laughter has also been shown to help allergy sufferers. A study by Dr Hajime Kimata in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that allergic reactions of patients allergic to dust and pollen reduced after watching a comedy film, suggesting that laughter can help reduce allergic symptoms. 

Allergies are mostly caused by physical factors, but some are actually caused by stress. By reducing stress levels, laughter yoga can therefore help prevent stress-induced allergies from developing in the first place. 

Laughter therapy is also often used as a form of physiotherapy for people with asthma, or even those with lung conditions such as bronchitis. 

5. Strengthens the Immune System

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It is well known that a weak immune system makes us more susceptible to illness and diseases. Poor immunity is often caused by stress, and laughter reduces the production of stress hormones and increases production of neuropeptides that help fight stress. 

For that reason, another one of the advantages of laughter yoga is that it can contribute towards a strengthened immune system and it helps the body combat disease and illness more effectively. 

6. Laughing Helps to Tone Your Abs

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You know that feeling when you laugh so much it hurts? Well, that’s because you’re basically doing an ab workout!

When you laugh deeply, the muscles in your stomach expand and contract, just like when you do crunches or other intentional ab exercises. Laughing actually helps tone your abs, as well as burning a few calories.

Training your core is important for building strength, stability, balance and so many other things. You may be familiar with classic compound core-building exercises (such as push-ups, planks and leg raises) and even more targeted ab exercises (such as sit-ups, v-sits and russian twists), but you may not have tried laughing to build a six-pack!

Laughter is arguably a great low-impact alternative and can be a good choice for rest days as a form of active recovery. 

Once we're done here, why not head over to our guide to the yoga diet to see what you should eat to best complement your practice.

How to Start Laughter Yoga

So, you’ve heard all the amazing health benefits of laughter yoga and now you’re ready to give it a go! Like traditional yoga, you can do it either alone at home or in a group with others. 

Whatever option you pick, we’ll guide you through what you can expect when starting your laughter yoga journey.

What Happens at a Laughter Yoga Class? What to Expect...

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The most important thing to remember before your first laughter yoga class is to go with an open mind. It is likely that it will be unlike any other exercise class you’ve done before, even if you’re an experienced yogi. It’s all about letting go of your inhibitions and connecting with others, so you have to be ready for that!

A laughter yoga session usually lasts between 30 minutes and 1 hour. They take place as part of ‘Laughter Clubs’, of which there are thousands around the world. Laughter Clubs are safe spaces where people of all backgrounds, ages, genders and physical abilities can practice laughter yoga together.

Classes are run by a qualified laughter yoga instructor and group sizes can be small or large, depending on the space where the class is held. 

To be an instructor, you have to undertake laughter yoga training, which is usually done after completing a traditional yoga teaching qualification. Although the class is led by an instructor, they will encourage students to interact with each other, so that a group dynamic is formed.

The class will begin with a gentle warm up to make everyone feel comfortable and relax into the class. Clapping is typically included in the warm-up, combined with a simple chant. This is to encourage both deep breathing from the diaphragm, and to stimulate acupressure points in the hands which increases energy levels.

After the warm-up, the instructor will then guide the class through deep breathing exercises and specific laughter exercises. Throughout the class, child-like playfulness is encouraged through chanting positive affirmations whilst laughing.

Depending on your fitness level, you can incorporate small physical movements with the laughter exercises. This can include swinging the arms, jumping, walking or running around the room and swaying side to side.

There will then be a period of ‘laughter meditation’. This is to encourage a deeper, more organic laughter that may have built up within you throughout the class.

Most classes will end with guided relaxation to ground the body and to get the heart rate and mental state back to base level.

Why not check out our list of the best yoga challenges to try with 1 or 2 people.

Where Can I Find a Laughter Yoga Class?

There are thousands of laughter yoga clubs all around the world, so it is very likely that there will be one in your area. The Laughter Yoga University has a handy tool to find a laughter yoga class in the UK, or many classes are held through The Laughter Association.

Since group exercises are unavailable at the moment due to Covid-19, you can also find group classes online that are carried out over Zoom. Many of these are free, such as this one run by the founder of laughter yoga himself, Dr Madan Kataria!

How Much Does a Laughter Yoga Class Cost? 

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Many Laughter Clubs are not-for-profit organizations that run classes as a way to give back to their community. Online classes are often also free. However, most group classes range from £5-£15 depending on the length, level, location, and size of the class.

You don’t need any specialist equipment or clothing for laughter yoga- not even a mat, so it is a very accessible and cheap form of exercise.

Who Is Laughter Yoga Aimed At?

Anyone can do laughter yoga! People of all ages and backgrounds can do it. However, since it is a low-impact class, it is particularly popular with seniors or those with limited mobility. 

Once we're done here, we recommend that you check out these recent blog posts:

Can You Do It At Home?

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Yes! Whilst it is often practiced in a group because of its emphasis on human connection, it can certainly be done at home by yourself and you will reap all the same amazing benefits of laughter yoga.

8 Laughter Yoga Exercises You Can Try At Home

After reading about the health benefits of laughter yoga, you’re probably eager to find out how to do laughter yoga! If that is the case, here are 8 brilliant exercises that you need to try. 

1. Clapping and Chanting

This is often used as the warm-up exercise in a laughter yoga class in order to prepare the body for laughter.

Clap your hands parallel to each other, in order to stimulate acupressure points on your hands. Clap in a 1-2-3 rhythm and swing your hands side to side as you do so.

Then start a chant, saying ‘ho ho, ha-ha ha’ over and over, whilst clapping. Make the sounds from your diaphragm, making deep inhales and exhales. You can continue doing this whilst moving around the room or side to side.

2. Gibberish Talking

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Talking gibberish is making sounds without meaning. Children speak like this, so this exercise encourages you to release your inner child and playfulness. This could also make it an ideal exercise in laughter yoga for children. 

Either standing up or sitting down, take a deep breath in. As you exhale, simply start talking gibberish! Try to relax into it and just make whatever sounds naturally come out of your mouth. Vary the speed and volume and include hand and body movements too.

3. Deep Breathing Exercises

Stand in a relaxed standing position and bend forward at the waist. Inhale deeply and exhale as fully as you dangle your arms towards the floor. Hold this position for a few seconds.

Then straighten up slowly as you inhale through your nose. Take a deep breath in as you raise your arms up past your ears and bend slightly backwards if you can.

Hold your breath here for 4-5 seconds, then exhale slowly as you bend forward again and repeat the exercise.

4. Lion Laughter

This exercise is based on traditional yogic breathing exercises (Pranayama). It is a great stretch for the muscles in the face and opens up your throat and airways.

Begin either standing up or sitting down and take a few deep inhales and exhales. Breath in, open your mouth, and stick your tongue out fully. Stretch your hands out and roar and laugh from your belly as you exhale. 

Read here for our breakdown of the best yoga poses for two!

5. Gradient Laughter

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Either standing up or sitting down, begin by faking a smile. Start to turn this into a giggle, then a laugh. Slowly increase the tempo and volume until you are doing a big hearty belly laugh! 

6. Hearty Laughter 

Stand up, inhale and spread your arms up past your ears. Look up and laugh as deeply as you can. This is a great heart-opening exercise that will release emotions and unblock stress.

7. Electric Shock Laughter

Imagine that everything around you is electric and will give you an electric shock. Walk around the room and touch various objects or even people. As you make contact, jump backwards as if you have been given a shock and laugh!

8. Value-based Laughter Exercises

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These exercises aim to make the brain associate certain situations with positive feelings and emotions. For example, act out normal everyday tasks like greeting people, making dinner or using the phone- all whilst laughing.

A popular one is the cell-phone laughter exercise, where you hold up an imaginary mobile phone to your ear and laugh!

Looking for another type of yoga to try out? Check out our guide to power yoga here!

Laughter Yoga Resources

If you want to know how to do laughter yoga at home, there are some great resources that you can follow, such as YouTube channels and books.

Some of our favourite laughter yoga Youtube Channels and videos include:

Dr Madan Kataria  

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As the founder of laughter yoga, Dr Kataria’s channel is a great place to start. His videos range from guided exercises to interviews and testimonials from other laughter yogis. 

If you enjoy his laughter yoga channel, he also offers a full training programme which consists of a collection of over 60 laughter exercises as well as foundation yoga exercises to liven up your session!

Bianca Spears 

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Bianca’s YouTube channel is one of the best places to find laughter yoga meditation sessions. Her channel consists of a wide range of videos from full-length classes to short ‘laugh with me’ sessions.

Laughter Yoga Together 

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A channel filled with fun and exciting content, ‘Laughter Yoga Together’ shares a huge variety of classes, workouts, and guides to laughter yoga.

Ran by Certified Laughter Yoga Leader Kara, this channel has everything from long to short step-by-step classes, including laughter yoga for seniors and for children. We especially love the videos that combine laughter yoga and daily affirmations, or ‘laughermations’ as it's described on the channel.

Robert Rivest 

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If you’re unsure of what to expect before going to your first real-life laughter yoga class, then it might be worth checking out Robert’s channel.

As well as at-home laughter yoga tutorials, Robert shares videos of his actual classes so that you can see exactly what happens during one of his sessions. 

Find more of the best YouTube Channels here!

Our favourite laughter yoga books:

Laughter Yoga: Daily Laugher Practice for Health and Happiness by Dr Madan Kataria

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Written by the founder of laughter yoga himself, this is the definitive guide to laughter yoga. The book shares tips and tricks for fitting laughter yoga into your busy life without the need for any equipment, kit, or having to leave your house.

The book consists of tons of exercises that combine laughter and yoga for a full mind and body workout. Don’t just take our word for it, check out this review from Oprah Winfrey: 

“Laughter yoga is a perfect way to laugh and get exercise at the same time...I've tried it, and it works.”

Price: £11.99 

The Laughter Yoga Book by Jeffery Briar

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Jeffery Briar is a Master Trainer at Dr Kataria’s Laughter Yoga University, so he really knows what he’s talking about!

Described as the ‘definitive guide to Laughter for Health’, this book is filled with images and step by step instructions to tons of exercises. If that wasn’t enough, the book also covers the history and theory behind laughter yoga.

Price: £6.23

Laugh Your Way To Happiness by Lesley Lyle 

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A brilliant read from laughter coach Lesley Lyle, this book explores laughter more generally, focusing on its role as a form of therapy and healing. If you want to know, improve your understanding of the philosophy behind laughter yoga, then this is a great read.

As well as covering the scientific basis of the benefits of laughter for mental and physical well-being, this book also includes some simple but fun laughter and breathing exercises that you can try.

Price: £8.99

Before you go!

From its humble origins in Mumbai over 15 years ago, laughter yoga has since grown to be an extremely popular form of yoga across the world that is accessible to everyone, no matter your fitness ability.

Although it may seem like a silly exercise, laughter yoga is certainly no joke! From boosting your mood and reducing stress, to physical benefits such as improving heart and lung health, there are some serious benefits to be had. Laughter is indeed the best medicine!

After exploring everything there is to know about the power of laughter and with some exercises you can try yourself at home, will you be adding laughter yoga into your fitness regime?

Before you go, find out how you can turn your passion for health and fitness into an exciting career by enquiring about our Advanced Nutrition course or our REPs endorsed Personal Training diploma.

Alternatively, you can download our full course prospectus here - it's FREE!

References

Bressington D, Mui, J, Yu, C, et al. Feasibility of a group-based laughter yoga intervention as an adjunctive treatment for residual symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress in people with depression [published online January 28, 2019]. J Affect Disord

Mental Health Foundation, ‘The Lonely Society?’

H, Kimata. Effect of humor on allergen-induced wheal reactions. [published online Febuary 14, 2001]. Journal of the American Medical Association. 

Written by Alice Williams

Content Writer & Fitness Enthusiast

Alice is a freelance content writer at OriGym. With a first-class degree in French and Linguistics, she loves all things language, fitness and culture. As part of her degree, she spent a year living in France where she worked for a lifestyle blog, gaining professional experience in both translation and content writing. 

When she’s not writing, you can usually find Alice practicing yoga and she hopes to one day become a yoga instructor herself. She also loves running, tennis and cooking up a vegan storm in the kitchen! It was this passion for health and fitness, combined with her love for writing, that brought Alice to OriGym.

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