Laughter really can be good medicine
An older man throws his head back, chortling with laughter, while a young woman clutches her sides, chuckling until tears flow. Another woman, sitting in a wheelchair, doubles over with a deep-felt belly laugh. With a wide grin, the laughter yoga leader makes eye contact with the dozen-plus group. What began as “pretend laughter” has become quite real.
“Deliberate laughter has the same effects on the body as natural laughter,” explains Lynne West, a certified Laughter Yoga Leader for the past three years. “When you laugh, you breathe more, [and] it increases serotonin and dopamine and reduces cortisol levels [in your brain]. Even participants who are chair-bound still get the brain chemicals that laughter generates. Laughing with a group of people . . . is a powerful thing. You feel better when you laugh, and laughter yoga gives an opportunity to laugh for no reason.”
Lynne first learned about laughter yoga four years ago when she happened across a magazine article about the twenty-year-old yoga form. “I honestly was not in a good place in my life,” she says. But after reading the article, she “hopped on the Internet and discovered that Austin had a laughter yoga club.” Olympia Holliday, the group’s leader, told the skeptical Lynne, “If you feel better when we are done, come back.”
Lynne felt better and came back. “The initial voice in my head said ‘This is too simple and too much fun to be so powerful,’ [but] laughing and having fun . . . is necessary and life affirming. It is easier to laugh [than you expect], and you find your reaction to stress becomes laughter, [which] dissipates the stress instantly. The more I talk to people, the more I see that laughter has a serious impact and benefit on lives. Personally, it is critical to my well-being.”
Lynne’s experience, and that of others like her, has caught the attention of the medical community. Developed by Dr. Madan Kataria, in Mumbai, India, laughter yoga has flourished as both a form of exercise and of therapy. “Doctors send patients to learn how to laugh and lighten up,” Lynne said, “and people come with recent family bereavement. We work with cancer, PTSD, and Alzheimer’s patients—they never forget how to laugh. Once you get started, your body remembers and celebrates life with you. I hope my last breath is laughter.”
Simple Laughter Yoga Exercise
Lynne shares a simple laughter yoga exercise: “On your way to work or anywhere, when you come to a red light, laugh until it turns green. Yes, you will feel odd, but just laugh. The more lights on your commute, the better. Stop at the light. Laugh until it turns green. You [will] get to where you are going in a completely different state of mind.”