By Daniel Meyer
Laughter yoga: creative exercise classes blend laughter with yoga breathing techniques
It is believed the average 3-year-old laughs approximately 300 times a day, while the typical 40-year-old only laughs four or five times over the same time period.
Local residents who lead creative exercise classes that mix laughter with basic breathing techniques practiced by yoga participants are attempting to increase that paltry tally of laughing for adults in Western New York by continuing to promote what is known as Laughter Yoga.
A form of exercise designed to engage you physically, mentally and emotionally, Laughter Yoga follows an approach that believes a good laugh can help stimulate your heart, lungs and other muscles in the body in the hopes of reducing stress, soothing if not outright eliminating tension, lessening chances of experiencing depression, improves the functioning of the immune system and increasing the overall quality of life.
Growing in Popularity Worldwide
Jennifer May is a certified Laughter Yoga teacher and leader who hosts weekly online sessions. She was served as an instructor for seven years and regularly hosts workshops and guest lectures throughout Western New York about the many benefits of Laughter Yoga.
“It has a calming effect that is hard to describe but once you experience it you are truly able to understand the many benefits,” said May, who lives in Tonawanda. “You become more focused, your attitude is more relaxed and that sense of being more laid back and at peace with the world after you take a class is hard to ignore. I’ve had people tell me it’s often the best thing they can do for themselves that week, which I think says a lot about how unique and special it is.”
Laughter Yoga was developed 25 years ago in India by a physician who believed combining yogic breathing techniques with unconditional laughter would result in a unique and truly creative form of exercise. Participants do not need to master any traditional yoga postures but instead need to have an open mind and desire to laugh.
According to numerous different psychological studies conducted over the last quarter-century, research confirms that humor and the outward expression of laughter offers benefits to having a healthy mind, body and spirit. The release of physical and emotional tension has been proven to show that it can improve immune health, stimulate circulation, improve your mood and enhance cognitive functions.
Laughter Yoga is also known to offer tremendous benefits for caregivers and senior citizens who are seeking easy ways to relieve stress and anxiety by offering simple social stimulation. There are an estimated 100 different countries across the globe that have some form of “laughter clubs” or offer some type of regular laughter classes, including in-person courses and virtual classes offered to residents of Western New York.
How do you do it?
While each instructor has a preferred style, a typical one-hour class starts with some general socializing and an open group conversation about laughter. The “warming up” portion of each session normally involves some gentle stretching and calming breathing exercises. Each class is usually designed to suit the specific needs of the participants, meaning it could be highly active with designed high-intensity movements or it could be a more lower-energy session for anyone who is seated or may have restricted mobility. The basic steps of Laughter Yoga include some form of clapping and chanting, focused breathing and an overall childlike playfulness to each step. Just as in a typical yoga class, each session ends with some form of silent meditation and soothing breathing to signal the end of the class.
Joyce Haskell has been a participant for the past five years. She recently set a personal goal to become a Laughter Yoga leader in the hopes of someday leading her own classes to share the many benefits she has enjoyed.
“I just immediately fell in love with it,” said Haskell, a 76-year-old resident of Tonawanda. “I view it as an opportunity to get better in touch with your inner self and help boost and improve your energy level, which it certainly does for me.”
Inside. Outside. Standing up. Sitting down.
Christopher Carson has attended numerous online Laughter Yoga sessions and also experienced an outdoor session at Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park.
“For someone like me who feels chained to their desk for much of the week because of my job to use my lunch break once a week to do some hearty laughing and really focus on my breathing and how the air enters and exits my diaphragm, there’s really not something else that I find as beneficial,” said Carson, a 48-year-old resident of Williamsville. “The outdoor class was super cool and next year I’m going to make more of an effort to find ways to be outside because of the added benefit of breathing in fresh air while I’m laughing away my crazy high levels of stress from working in the sales industry.”
“It’s not for everyone,” said Haskell. “Some people I know have tried it out and felt it wasn’t for them, which is OK. But the number of people I know and who I suggested should try it far outnumbers the few who didn’t find appreciation and satisfaction from a focused effort to laugh in the hopes of improving your overall general health.”
“It provides a unique way of coping with everyday life and everything that you deal with on a daily basis,” said May, who has had students in her classes as young as 5 and as old as 85. “I love it because you can do it pretty much anywhere and it doesn’t even matter if you are standing, sitting or even laying in a hospital bed,” said May. “Not having to worry about memorizing and remembering certain yoga poses and just keeping your main focus on your breathing makes it simple and easy for everyone.”
Laugh locally… or virtually
May hosts her weekly Laughter Yoga sessions virtually every Tuesday using the visual communications website Zoom.com. There are also classes offered at some branch locations of the YMCA, as a component of some recreational activities offered by municipalities located throughout Western New York, the Himalayan Institute and at select yoga studios in the region.
In addition, the Western New York Railway Historical Society hosts Laughter Yoga classes at its train depot located on South Long Street in Williamsville, with May leading the free programs that are open to anyone interesting in attending. More information on future courses being held in Western New York for the current calendar year and in 2023 can be found on Facebook by searching “Buffalo Laughers.”
The website laughteryoga.org is also an online resource that provides links to other virtual classes as well as detailed information for anyone wanting to learn how they can train to be a Laughter Yoga leader or instructor or host a one-time session for a school group, team-building activity or a neighborhood activity that people of all ages could attend.