Laughter may be best medicine

AddThis

Healthy Hook

Meeting with others for the pure goal of laughter does the mind and body good. This doesn’t necessarily mean going to a stand-up comedy show or watching “Friends” DVDs, it’s as simple as sitting underneath a tree by Barton Springs with a group of people and laughing — something known as laughter yoga.

Laughter yoga is a series of physical exercises practiced with the intent of generating fits of laughter. People can laugh without having a reason and without using jokes, humor or comedy. There’s no posing involved, according to laughter yoga teachers Olympia and Fletcher Holliday. It’s called yoga because of the yoga-type breathing used
when laughing.

The Hollidays were asked by Fletcher’s employer to come to a laughing yoga event six months ago at an Austin farmers’ market. The plan was to walk through the market in a group and just laugh — to lighten the mood of the place and practice laughter yoga.

“We were reluctant to go the first day and then when we went, just at the end of the 10 minutes of laughing, it was unquestionable that we were going to go the next day,” Olympia Holliday said. “We laughed for 10 to 15 minutes at that farmers market and it changed our lives.”

Madan Lal Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India, started laughter yoga in 1995 with the goal to bring good health, joy and world peace to all through laughter and, thereby, laughter yoga. People come together in groups and engage in certain laughter exercises, which Kataria certifies teachers to lead. Through playful eye contact and simulated laughing, the laughter becomes genuine. The practice has caught on worldwide, with more than 10,000 laughter yoga groups in more than 60 countries, according to the Laughter Yoga International website. The Hollidays became certified laughter yoga teachers over the summer through a workshop led by Kataria.

“It starts as a practice you know, ha ha ha ha ha ha. And you’re in a group with 20 or 30 other adults, children, dogs, whatever and it kind of becomes contagious,” Fletcher Holliday said.

“Visa Bill Laughter” is one exercise groups perform in laughter yoga. It involves everyone in the group opening up an imaginary Visa bill envelope, looking at the bill and laughing. “Red Light Laughter” is another exercise in which the group drives imaginary cars. When they get to a red light, they’ll start laughing. These exercises show participants the things that stress people out in life and that laughter is a good way to deal with them instead of getting worked up.

“So it’s a red light. I can’t make it change by getting frustrated, so why don’t I just laugh about it and relax on the way to my destination so I’m in a better state of mind when I get there,” Olympia Holliday said.

Laughter yoga not only gives participants tools to employ in everyday life, it has proven physical and mental benefits. Laughter increases blood flow throughout the body, leading to a healthier cardiovascular system, according to a University of Maryland School of Medicine study.

Laughing is said to release pain-killing and energy-boosting endorphins, as well. This is why many hospitals and nursing homes are using laughter yoga in addition or as an alternative to medicines.

MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston brought laughter yoga meetings to their wellness center in 2009 so that cancer patients may use laughter to escape the thoughts and problems of cancer. Laughter yoga is also used in private businesses such as Emirates Airline, IBM and Hewlett-Packard as optional wellness programs to enhance
employees’ well-being.

Ginger Paradise, a local yoga instructor, decided to attend a laughter yoga meeting after she heard about it from a man in her creative hiking meet-up group. He had a very positive response to his experience at laughter yoga, so Ginger decided to try it out, too.

“It was lots of laughing, not a lot of yoga poses and it really gets you out of your box — the comfort of how we are in our lives,” Paradise said. “It breaks the walls down totally of meeting strangers because you’re just there for the laughing. Everyone is there for the same thing. It definitely helps in connecting with others.”

The Hollidays have the goal of bringing more joy to Austin through laughter yoga. They believe the perks and tools learned through laughter yoga are life changing.

“When you think about it, you go, how could I possibly spend my time better than practicing joy?” Olympia Holliday said. “‘Cause I’m going to die one day, and I don’t know when, but between now and then I plan on spending as many days happy and laughing as I possibly can.”