Laugh yourself healthy: the many benefits of Laughter Yoga

Laugh yourself healthy

Photo: Katharine Egli

Story and images originally published in Taos News

Do you think you have nothing to laugh about? Try a session of Laughter Yoga and you may change your mind.

“Laughter yoga, as an established practice, was developed in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor in India who was researching the effects of laughter on the human body,” said Valerie Clote, a certified Laughter Yoga leader. “He found out that the human body wasn’t able to distinguish between real laughter and fake or intentional one: the benefits were exactly the same, no matter if the people were really laughing or pretending to do so.”

Such benefits include a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, increase in feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and endorphins, and improvement of the respiratory, digestive, immune and cardiovascular systems.

“Besides these wonderful physical effects, laughter also helps people achieve better emotional balance,” said Clote. “It relieves anxiety, alleviates depression and fosters a positive mental attitude. This is no laughing matter is today’s stressed our world!”

A funny workout

Laughter Yoga incorporates play, laughter and deep yogic breathing, or Pranayama. Unlike traditional types of yoga, it doesn’t require people to learn difficult postures or hold them for any length of time.

“And yet Laughter Yoga is a form of aerobic exercise,” said Clote. “Only ten minutes of laughter is equivalent to thirty minutes on a rowing machine. It increases circulation and the supply of oxygen to the body.”

Laughing together

The exercises can be practiced alone or in a group, though the collective format tends to produce better results, said Clote.

“Laughter is highly contagious,” she said. “It’s difficult to see someone laughing and not laugh yourself, even if there is no particular reason for it.”

Laughing together establishes a special connection among fellow laughees, a link that goes beyond cultures and languages.

“Naturally, many people feel awkward at first because they think it is a silly thing to do,” Clote said. “But when they realize how much better and lighter they feel after a session, they come back. It’s that simple.”

Breathing and laughing

Sessions start with a series of warm-up activities and then proceed to the laughing techniques interspersed with deep breathing exercises with calming movements.

As a rule, the idea is to keep moving, but the exercises can be adapted to people’s specific needs.

“If you’d rather sit down during the class, you can do that,” Clote said. “What matters is that you laugh. Belly laughs, in particular, are great for toning your abs and circulating oxygen to all parts of the body.”

A session of Laughter Yoga

After a brief explanation about the origin and benefits of Laughter Yoga, and some deep-breathing, Clote guided the class through a number of exercises.

“Ho ho, ha ha ha!” she chirped, clapping and jumping around the room.

People looked at each other, mildly embarrassed, but that feeling dissolved soon as we all got into the laughing games.

In “balloon-popping laughter” we tried to pop each others’ imaginary balloons that were supposed to be attached to our ankles.

In “cha cha ha ha” we laughed while dancing cha cha. (In my case, it was rumba ha ha; I have never been good at cha cha).

“Embarrassing scenario” had a healing purpose. We were prompted to recall an embarrassing incident and laugh at it as a way to let go of hurtful or upsetting memories.

The “pound-your-chest laugh” encouraged us to guffaw while acting in a Tarzanesque manner. Clote explained that this motion helps activate the heart chakra and to stimulate the thyroid.

With “birthday candle breath” we pretended to blow out a birthday candle while making a wish. It included some visualization, since we were encouraged to focus on something that we wanted to accomplish.

“Though they may look goofy, there is a goal behind each exercise,” Clote said. “It’s just presented in a playful manner.”

Toward the end of the session we practiced laughter meditation, resting on yoga mats and laughing for several minutes.

We closed with a relaxation meditation.

The instructor

Valerie Clote has an eclectic background. She holds a BA in Geology and worked as a lab technician at the Oregon State University in Corvallis for two years. Other earth-science related occupations include field surveying in forestry and geophysics, and working in computerized mapping for over four years.

Clote became interested in Laughter Yoga when she was going through Hatha Yoga teacher training.

“I needed to add some workshop hours to my curriculum,” she said. “Then I remember seeing an interview with John Cleese, when he talked about Laughter Yoga. That was such an unusual topic that it stuck with me. I discovered that there was a weekend Laughter Yoga certification training in Portland and I went, though I really didn’t know what to expect.”

At first it was quite awkward, she admits.

“I felt pretty silly laughing at nothing,” she said, “but it was a safe environment… everybody was doing the same! Then I noticed blocks of energy moving up and out my spine and that was powerful. I was hooked.”

She became certified in 2012.

Laughter Yoga in Taos

Clote moved to Taos in February 2014.

“It has a rich cultural past and the people have been incredibly friendly,” she said. “I also think Taos is the perfect place for Laughter Yoga groups.”

She has worked with the local Cancer Support and Parkinson Support Societies, teaching patients the basics of Laughter Yoga.

“It is the easiest, fastest and most fun way to increase health and become highly energized,” she said. “Come by and give it a try.”

Valerie Clote teaches Laughter Yoga every Saturday at noon at Santosha Yoga studio. To contact her directly call 541 829 2939.

Santosha Yoga Studio is located at 1203 King Dr.

Laugh yourself healthy

Photo: Katharine Egli

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