My First Encounter with Laughter Yoga
My yoga path started in a yoga class in a run of the mill fitness studio. Six years later, in 2013, I had a much more intense encounter with yoga: I decided to spend two months at an Ashram in Rishikesh where I learned and practiced Vinyasa style Hatha Yoga. In February 2015 I started practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, which is now an integral part of my practice today.
I came into contact with Laughter Yoga for the first and only time a few years ago at a festival. Although it was the only time that I have experienced this format of yoga, it really stuck with me. The experience was just so fun and wonderful that it remained really present in my mind for a long time.
Last summer the experience popped up in my mind again and this time it was to share the experience by offering a Laughter Yoga class at AYI Ulm. In theory it is not that difficult at all to practice, because we all have the faculty to laugh. And who can tell you with a straight face that they didn't enjoy a good laugh?
Preparations are underway...
And so with Ronald and Melanie as smiling supporters of the project, I'd 'only' have to prepare and organize the lessons and format. Which sounds great, but then it occurred to me that all I could recall were feelings of happiness and vitality, as well as a moment when I literally fell down from laughing so hard, or the final sequence that ended in an infinity loop of laughter. The individual exercises, on the other hand, were less vibrant in my mind and were overshadowed by the absolute euphoria of the fun I had.
With that I took on the challenge of researching Laughter Yoga to find out how this feeling of lightness and inner freedom can be achieved in a lesson. In doing so, I came across some interesting information about "Hasya" or Laughter Yoga.
The Creation of Laughter Yoga
Laughter Yoga was developed in 1995 by the Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria in Mumbai. In his research on the concept that "laughter is the best medicine", he came across some scientific studies on the positive effects of laughter. These studies impressed him so much that he founded the first Laugh Club. Basically, he gathered with a handful of people in a park and they told each other jokes. The success was overwhelming. The boisterous laughter in the park immediately engaged some passersby who jumped right in and joined the newly founded club. In no time the Laugh Club had over 50 members!
But alas, the joke-telling method worked only for a short time: the jokes became less funny rather quickly and the club members enjoyed less and less laughing ...
Dr. Kataria, who saw that the success of his project was in danger, thought about different solutions for a long time. He had no idea what he could do and so he finally asked his wife Madhuri, a Hatha yoga teacher, what her thoughts were. She was inspired and felt that the laughter could pair well with yoga. From her experience with yoga, she was very familiar with the combination of body and mind, and knew how to induce certain reactions in the mind through physical exercises, breathing, and posture. Based on Madhuri's knowledge, the two finally developed the first Laughter Yoga exercises.
Laughter Around the World
While the jokes had failed after a short time, the Laughter Yoga exercises proved successful over long periods of time. It was therefore no surprise that Mumbai's first Laugh Club quickly caught the eyes of inquisitive journalists who interviewed Dr. Kataria on his work. Dr. Kataria enjoyed sharing his method with other people and gave generous advice on how one could set up a laugh club of their own. The open attitude of the doctor led to the fact that the laugh clubs were spreading all over across India. After just two years, the number of laugh clubs had already risen to around 2,000, and in 1998, Kataria even declared the first Sunday in May World Laughter Day. At a fixed time, all laugh clubs would join in a minute of simultaneous laughter across the globe.
The Effect of Laughter on the Brain
Presumably, almost all of us have already had the experience that when we laugh in the company of others, we feel happier and lighter at that time, and problems that previously seemed insurmountable often lose the sense of severity they once had. The question is whether it is merely the sense of community that achieves this, or is it somehow tied to the act of laughing?
Laughter in fact does have an effect on our brain that triggers certain reactions. Neurophysiologically speaking, the phenomenon can be explained in that when we laugh - be it authentic or forced - the muscles associated with laughing press on a corresponding nerve which directs stimulus to the brain, which then receives the information that laughter is happening and it then results in the production of happiness hormones. Conversely, these happiness hormones make their way back to the nerve which sends the instruction to the facial muscles to continue laughing. This creates a type of "feedback loop" and we find ourselves in an infinity loop of laughter.
At the same time, the laughter has a positive effect on our immune system. When we laugh, more oxygen gets pumped into the blood, dissolving tension in the body and generating new energy.
Give Laughter Yoga a Try!
Basically, Laughter Yoga is suitable for anyone who is curious and would like to explore the effect of laughter on the mind-body level in a playful, fun and experiential way. Or, for those of you who just want to get a good laugh in. As usual in yoga, we will pay special attention to our breathing and combine the experience with a series of easy-to-learn movements.
Curious? Then I look forward to welcoming you to one of my Laughter Yoga lessons. I am now unequivocally convinced that everyone should try Laughter Yoga at least once in their lives! And who knows, perhaps a Laugh Club could find its new home in the lovely city of Ulm.