When we're feeling low, nothing beats a pick-me-up. A well-timed joke from a friend or laughing through a comedy film featuring funny men Adam Sandler or Vince Vaughn always seems to work. Laughing out loud is good for both our emotional well-being and our physical health.
Research shows that laughter provides a safety valve that shuts off the flow of stress hormones and the fight-or-flight compounds that come into action in times of stress or anger. Since stress is one of the culprits that lowers our immune system and raises blood pressure, we should be laughing more often.
Laughing also delivers an unexpected workout: A repeated giggle, a hearty belly laugh or laughing yourself to tears exercises your diaphragm and abdominals while raising your heart rate and providing an aerobic benefit.
Laughter therapy has found its way to the yoga mat with Laughter Yoga – a series of exercises intended to bring more oxygen into your lungs and give your internal organs a massage. Teachers of this light-hearted form of yoga say laughter even detoxifies the body. When you laugh, you're breathing deeply and the stale oxygen deep in your lungs is expelled.
The yoga and laughter connection involves deep, rapid contractions of the belly muscles. You can literally laugh your belly fat off while you tighten the underlying muscles. The nonprofit group Laughter Yoga Canada says:
"The natural increase in oxygen expands and flushes toxins from the lungs and, in turn, the bloodstream. Circulation in the lymphatic system is stimulated. The immune system is strengthened. Finally, facial muscles are strengthened and wrinkles fade."
That means you can laugh off your belly fat and keep a youthful complexion. The practice is reportedly effective for seniors, too, in improving their mobility and boosting their energy.
Laughter Yoga creates a sense of wellbeing and inner peace, just as the quieter types of yoga practice, but it also gives people the freedom to be silly and childlike. The permission to be silly can be empowering in itself in our oh-so serious lives.
But how do teachers bring on the laughs? They don't go around the group asking participants for their best jokes or knock-knock lines, or play a soundtrack from a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up comedy show, although that would be funny. Participants join in with animal laughs, such as the "baboon laugh" or "lion laugh", or just improvise.
Laughter Yoga was created by Madan Kataria, a medical doctor, and his wife, Madhuri, in Mumbai in 1995, Laughter Yoga Canada says.
It started with a few friends sharing jokes in a park. Then Dr Kataria realized that you don't need a reason to laugh. Research shows that the mind doesn't know the difference between real laughter and simulated laughter. The mind just perceives a good time, so you can fake laughter and your body can't tell the difference. You get the same physical benefits.
According to Dr Kataria, one minute of mirthful laughter is the equivalent to a 10-minute cardio workout on a rowing machine. Some may find that the former is a lot more fun, too. Most importantly, though, you can reprogram your brain and your body to laugh at anything, not take life so seriously and maintain a sunnier, lighter outlook overall.
A "danger" associated with the Yoga Laughter practice? Laughter in contagious; instructors say classes can result in people rolling around on the floor, laughing away. Laughter Yoga has spread to 60 countries in the past 15 years, meaning the world can share in a healthy belly laugh while doing those Downward Dog and Cobra poses.
For more information about Laughter Yoga, visit www.laughteryoga-canada.org.
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