The Truth About Laughter Yoga

When your mother tells you she’s becoming a Laughter Yoga Leader, that in itself may conjure a laugh. Or a raised eyebrow. Or a furrowed brow of confusion. What is a Laughter Leader?! It turns out, there’s a whole community that is turning to laughter to improve wellbeing, combat stress and get those endorphins flowing. I didn’t know until I was stood in my first ever laughter yoga class on a Saturday morning, that the brain can’t detect the difference between a “real” laugh and “fake” one. If I’m being honest, I have required fake laughing before now and recalled how incredibly exhausting I found it - perhaps this Laughter Yoga was going to feel more like a workout that I thought! Not surprising for an introvert that the notion of standing in a room full of strangers and being asked to do a series of exercises (most of which require eye contact and bellowing laughs) was my idea of hell. However, I’m all for trying things once...and I told myself, even if I didn't find the experience funny, the anecdotes would no doubt be worth the £10 to attend (cheapest ‘Yoga’ session in London I might add!)

Before I get into the detail, I'm aware there's a little myth-busting required so you all understand what exactly Laughter Yoga is... 

The first misconception about laughter yoga is you’re required to own exercise gear. Wrong. You can turn up in whatever you feel comfortable to move in, but you certainly don’t have to don Sweaty Betty’s latest collection to fit in here. This is a judgement free zone.

The second misconception is you’ll be going red-faced in downward dog with, God forbid, your arse is in air and asked to laugh. That’s enough to make my very clenched little bottom run in the opposite direction. But nope, it’s not yoga in the traditional sun-salutation sense, it’s yogic breathing that features here: in through the nose, belly expands, out through the mouth (with a ha ha haaaaaa on the outward breath).
The 90 minute session is comprised of 60 minutes of laughter exercises and 30 minutes of mindfulness and meditation. The warm-up starts with an exercise sharing names and getting familiar with making ha-ha and hee-hee sounds. Okay, easing me in gently. Then comes the science, which is pretty impressive:

FACT NO.1. Did you know between childhood and adulthood we “learn” to stop laughing. As children we don't have the filter to think about laughing, we just do it when something humours us! But something about growing up causes us adults to become more reserved, filter ourselves and, sadly, laugh less. Nothing funny about that. 

FACT NO.2. The brain cannot decipher the difference between real and fake laughter. Hence why you all need to hang out at your local Laughter Yoga session regularly to get your fix of giggles. It's so dull to say but day-to-day life, especially in a high intensity or isolated job, can mean laughs are not a-plenty. Time to meet like-minded people, have a laugh and feel great!

FACT NO.3. At any time, laughter can help release a D.O.S.E of these 'happy hormones' - Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphin - which is basically kryptonite to those stress hormones. 

Then it comes to granting permission. You are asked to give yourself permission to laugh. Ah, right, there are my inhibitions being confronted. Yes I’m feeling awkward about the whole thing. Yes I’m slightly dreading it. But there we all are being asked to be equal and find the benefits of laughter together, without judgement. I would hazard a guess that everyone is feeling the same trepidation if they’re a first timer but you have to be in it to win it, I guess. In fact, as the session unfolds, you can feel the reservations melting away from all those around you get more used to the scenario before them and the laughter rises in volume.

A few examples of the exercises you’ll do are analogies for the trials and tribulations of modern life and so, incredibly easy to relate. All those thoughts from the working week whizzing around your head? Floss them away. All that worry and stress that’s in your pockets, empty them out. That never-ending to-do list burdening your shoulders, throw it away. The metaphors combined with breathing and laughter, giggling and chuckling has an addictive and enlightening effect. It also teaches us a much more significant lesson and that’s to use laughter therapeutically to keep balance in our life; next time you get stuck in a traffic jam, laugh at it to diffuse that adrenaline and nasty hormones flooding your body with stress. There’s a saying I often use when in a stressful work environment - If I don’t laugh I’ll cry - and it’s that, but done consciously. With Brexit upon us, there’s never been more need for us stiff upper lipped Brits to crack a smile, laugh at the political ridiculousness we’re in! Ho hoo ha ha haa!

The third misconception is people are laughing at you. Not true. There are times that hearing other people’s laughter helped me create more of my own, and sometimes the over-exuberant Laughter Leader cracked a joke but there’s certainly no laughter at someone else’s expense. I often did think throughout the session that if my husband could see me now, he certainly would be laughing AT me, but even I found vividly imagining that to my benefit when we were asked to free-laugh FOR FIVE MINUTES!!

Believe it or not, sixty minutes of laughter does feel like you’ve had a workout. Your core has been active, you’ve been moving/miming/walking around so by the time you get to lie down and meditate, I was basically asleep. The lasting feeling was certainly happy one. We were asked to share a word for how we were feeling at the end of the session: relaxed, energised (and relieved) were among them. The effects for some were so profound they felt compelled to share their delight at how they now felt; admitting their nerves at the beginning but that the laughter yoga served as a perfect antidote to bigger issues they were dealing with, such as depression and anxiety in their everyday life. When the results are that strong after one session, why aren't all of London doing this?? 

Valerie Letley - Laughter Leader & Life Coach - is celebrating International Women's Day with a session in East Sussex. Contact Valerie to find out more information about upcoming Laughter Yoga events.

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  1. It was lovely to have you and your mum join in at my laughter club recently. I am so pleased you enjoyed the experience and wrote such a lovely blog about the experience. It's great that your mum is also spreading laughter and joy. It will be really appreciated if you can give us a mention here in London for anyone who is in the area wanting to experience the amazing health benefits of our fun yet powerful workshops. It was a really special session as some of my recently trained leaders helped to lead the session. Didn't they do amazing! :-) For those looking to join us here in London our details can be found via Keep on laughing :-) Odette aka Lady Ha Ha

  2. Wow, cool post. I'd like to write like this too - taking time and real hard work to make a great article... but I put things off too much and never seem to get started. Thanks though. yoga teacher training in goa

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