Laughter Yoga helps restore psychological and physical health around the world
“I like it because it’s totally goofy and silly,” said Margaret Cowan. “I came to Laughter Yoga about a year ago for the first time. Within five minutes, I knew I was home.”
The group gathered around me after their Laughter Yoga Class at Inspire Health, a not-for-profit cancer care organization in Vancouver.
Created by husband and wife Dr. Madan Kataria and Madhuri Kataria — Madan, a medical doctor and Madhuri, a yoga teacher — Laughter Yoga gives followers a path to health and happiness with gaiety itself.
The idea is silly simple. We all love to chuckle and know intuitively how good laughter is for breaking out of a funk, lifting spirits and enjoying time with friends and family. Laughter is infectious, making it a wonderful group activity. Even the Mayo Clinic promotes the health benefits of laughter, both psychological and physiological.
While the art and science of traditional yoga is thousands of years old, Laughter Yoga is barely 21. Nevertheless, the idea is rapidly gaining popularity worldwide. From its humble birth in a Mumbai public park in 1995 to now, you can find laughter yoga teachers and clubs from Argentina to Israel, Canada to Columbia, Belgium, Haiti, Serbia, the United States and many more.
Dr. Kataria discovered that faking laughter can turn into real laughter and that even the fake laughter has the same benefits. His wife, with her yoga knowledge, helped him add breathing techniques to enhance students’ giggles and guffaws.
“I got my [cancer] diagnosis last Wednesday,” Shivraj Pannu told me, “on Thursday I found Inspire Health and today [Tuesday] I’m at Laughter Yoga.”
Moved by the her openness — we’d shared the class together, but otherwise were total strangers — I expressed how touched I was by her courage.
Shivraj responded with warmth and surprise. She shared more of her story with me. “I don’t know what my treatments will be, because they are still doing tests.” She told me she is a wholistic person and wants to combine Western medicine with additional modalities for healing.
“Inspire Health is a support to me,” Shivraj said as she gestured to the space in the cozy foyer where we were talking. With her friends and family supporting her as well, Shivraj is in a good position to fight for her health.
Photo: Olivia Fermi
Before the class I spoke with certified Laughter Yoga (LY) instructor Amy Kiara Ruth, a kinesiologist and somatic movement educator. Amy admitted that the first time she took a LY class she found it, “awkward and bizarre to be laughing with total strangers.” But then she gave in and laughing harder than ever, cleared her mind and thoroughly enjoyed herself. Nine months later, Amy took the teacher training and has been teaching LY in Vancouver for eight years.
The class format is deceptively simple and relies on the instructor’s ability to lead the way to levity, with participants’ openness to welcome each other’s laughter apparent to me in her class. Amy told me her dad’s mom, “had a great capacity to laugh. I remember her when I’m leading a laughter class.”
“Although many of the participants are facing their own mortality, I approach each class from a place of possibility,” said Amy. Possibilities could include silly sock talk, funny flamenco dancing or laughing lizards. “I’m facilitating yet the experience is co-created.” Her fountain of ideas seems ultimately to be inspired by her wisdom and sense of humour interacting with class members in the moment.
Photo: Olivia Fermi
I asked Amy about the benefits of Laughter Yoga and she said it “takes courage to show up and to be vulnerable through laughter and playfulness.” Taking that risk gives people self-confidence with a ripple effect like the ripple of a good belly laugh.
“Healthy emotion is like a wave,” said Amy, “like the weather, arising, cresting, releasing… For expression of more challenging emotions, like anger, grief, these expressions can be inhibited. Reconnecting to the wave through laughter …can help us shift the weather.”
I wondered about shifting attitudes about climate change with laughter and if that might be a way to empower people on a social scale.
“Taking in the full immensity of the challenges facing us can be overwhelming,” Amy responded, “being able to express our emotions in some way is imperative. Laughing helps to spark our creativity and imagination. These are essential tools to help us move into a difficult future.”
Photo: Olivia Fermi
Laughing with others and letting down barriers amplifies positive resonance. One of the students wanted me to know:
“Amy is the ultimate Laughter Yoga teacher. There’s no one else like her,” she said.
“I don’t feel well, I don’t feel like coming, but I make myself come and I always feel better after. Grateful that I did make myself do it.”
They tell me Amy has a way of making everyone comfortable, even if it means laughing from a cushion on the floor. “This class is the highlight of my week,” they attested. “We feel better after.”