Laugh Your Worries Away

There is no doubt that we live in troubling times, where California has yet to pass a budget and where our state’s unemployment rate has recently jumped to 12.4 percent.

Our economy is bleak and every little sign that shows an improvement is immediately countered with an extremely dire statistic that proves otherwise. This is no time to be laughing.

Or is it?

More and more people are turning to yoga as they face these tough economic times. Hatha and Ashtanga, or power yoga, are among the most popular types and are readily embraced by Americans for the sake of stress relief.

Bikram, or hot yoga, is a fresher and more intense form of yoga, which involves doing poses in an extremely hot environment and helps promote weight loss.

Then there is this other form called Laughter, or Hasya yoga, and it is a trend that is popping up everywhere. Even better, it is simple, easy and free Đ all you need to do is meet up with one of thousands of Laughter Clubs around the world and join a class that is supervised by a certified Laughter Leader.

The concept of Laughter Yoga was first developed by Jiten Kohi, but was recently made popular by Indian physician Madan Lal Kataria. Laughter is, according to Dr. Kataria, “a choice. A connector of people. No barriers. No language.”

Each Laughter Club practices laughter as a form of exercise and is based on the assumption that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter, making their spiritual, physiological and psychological benefits identical.

Anyone can reap these benefits, regardless of whether or not you have a sense of humor, because of the contagious nature of laughter.

The benefits that are claimed in this form of yoga actually do have substance behind them. Medical research has suggested that laughing is a good way to reduce stress and stimulate the release of endorphins, which are the body’s feel-good hormones.

Because laughter is a combination of deep inhalation and full exhalation, our blood and major organs are fully oxygenated, leaving us energized and improving our lung capacity and oxygen levels at the same time.

Laughing also massages the internal organs, promoting circulation to the digestive and lymphatic systems, as well as strengthening the immune system. Additionally, laughter supports cardiovascular health and, at its mildest, alleviates depression.

Many respectable outlets, including the American Journal of Medical Sciences and Psychology Today, have reported that laughter yoga may even reduce pain and blood pressure, and help prevent heart disease.

It may also reduce wrinkles and sagging by firming and toning facial muscles, making those involved look and feel younger.

Plus, embracing the spirit of Laughter makes it possible to achieve a more positive outlook on life, while you tone your abdominal muscles and maybe even get that six-pack you’ve always wanted.

With the fact that it is so easy to do, it is no wonder that laughter therapy is becoming increasingly popular.

A local organization is the Laguna Laughter Club, founded by Jeffrey Briar in 2005. This club meets every day, rain or shine, and is fortunate enough to have the beach as its serene background, giving a whole new meaning to relaxation and healing. As you pose and laugh, you can hear the waves crashing behind you and feel the ocean mist spray across your face.

The Laguna Laughter Club begins its meeting in a casual and social atmosphere, where participants welcome and chat with each other. The Laughter Leader soon guides everyone in easy stretches and breathing exercises, which are typical of a traditional yoga class.

Next, laughter is incorporated at the exhalation of every breathing ritual. A main part of this is making sure you keep your eyes open so that everyone can connect with each other and develop a sense of childlike liveliness. Once one member sees another laughing, any trace of fake laughter is gone and is replaced with something real and genuine.

Following shortly after are the “laughter exercises,” some of which are based on customary yoga practices. Others are completely different and used strictly to stimulate laughter, which can lead immediately to the real deal.

There is the clapping of hands and chanting of “ho, ho, ha, ha, ha,” which helps to unite the group, keep breathing active, and ground the joyful feelings into the body-mind system so that everyone can bring themselves back to feeling good at anytime.

Other exercises include improvising, which seems at first to be a giant game of charades, acting and recreating childlike games –  all of which are reenacted with laughter.

Each laughter exercise lasts approximately 20 to 45 seconds but, by that time, it is often hard to get people to stop. In between, there are short breaks for more stretching techniques.

And for every activity, the club respects one of its mottos Đ “No new pain.” Each member can modify or sit out of any exercise they choose to promote a healthy lifestyle.

After, there may be “laughter meditation,” a form of spontaneous free-form laughing where everyone lies together in a circle on a huge towel that has a picture of a smiling sun.

The end calls for deep relaxation, which is intended to integrate and realize the advantages of laughter. Every session, which is about 45 minutes long, concludes with a wish for peace and joy in the world, which would be the equivalent of chanting “Namaste” in the average yoga class.

So what if you don’t have the time to drive out to the beach?  That problem is easily fixed with a simple phone call. It’s true; you really can join Laughter Yoga on the phone. And yes, it is still free.

In fact, Laughter Yoga is becoming so popular that sessions with certified instructors are being offered at corporate events, academic settings and cruise ships.

It is even incorporated in some of the most outrageous places, including weddings, vow renewals and other sacred ceremonies.

The simple act of laughing is catching on and spreading around the world like wildfire.

So whenever you feel stressed living the college life, try a little laughter. Besides, with Oprah Winfrey, CNN and many more media outlets all endorsing this hilarious type of yoga, why not try it out?

After all, laughter really is the best medicine – whatever form it may come in.