There’s nothing better than a really good belly laugh, the kind that leaves you gasping for breath with tears running down your cheeks. By the time you collect yourself, your whole body is more relaxed, your mood is lighter, everything feels cleansed. You’re probably getting healthier, too.
Laughter therapies like laughter yoga and laughter meditation have been gaining popularity for the past several decades as methods of improving physical and mental well-being. The benefits of using humor as therapy seem obvious. Unlike asking people to clean up their diets or take medicines with unpleasant side effects, just about everyone is willing to yuk it up to their favorite television show or comedian.
Dr. Madan Kataria, a family physician from India and founder of the laughter yoga movement, was researching the positive effects of laughter on health when he came up with the idea of formally incorporating laughter into a wellness routine. Of course, Dr. Kataria wasn’t the first person to think of using “laughter as medicine.” The practice is probably as old as humanity itself. He did, however, formalize the practice of laughter yoga back in the 90s. Today there are thousands of “laughter clubs” that follow Dr. Kataria’s methods, plus who knows how many other yoga and meditation enthusiasts using laughter to tap into positive emotions, improve mental well-being, and perhaps even improve physical health as well.
You don’t have to convince me about the many benefits of laughter. I could write a whole post about why laughter is a fundamentally human experience and how it helped us evolve into the emotionally complex, socially interconnected beings we are today. (Oh wait, I already did.) It’s also pretty easy to sell me on the concept of laughter meditation or laughter yoga to improve mood and overall outlook on life. As for the grander claims about widespread health benefits? I’m definitely open to the possibility.
Let’s start by looking at some of the rationale and science behind the practices. Then, I asked a couple of my uber-creative team members to demonstrate a simple laughter meditation to get you started.
Laughter Yoga and Laughter Meditation
Laughter meditation and yoga share similar features, and just like with any type of yoga or meditation, there’s no single right way to do them. Generally speaking, a laughter meditation session will involve three parts:
- Gentle movement and breathing exercises to warm up and settle in.
- The laughing portion of the meditation, which might last a few minutes or longer. Start by smiling, then break out a few “ho ho hos” or “tee hees.” Faking it might feel awkward at first (although simulated laughter could be just as beneficial as the real thing). Don’t be surprised if you’re soon giggling, even guffawing, for real, especially if you practice with other people. Laughter is contagious, after all.
- A cool-down period where you sit in silent reflection. As with more traditional meditation, try to be mindful and present. Notice but don’t analyze any feelings that come up for you here. There’s a good chance you’ll feel great, but don’t be surprised if other emotions surface as well. You might also want to do some additional breathwork or gentle movement at this stage.
Laughter yoga is more involved. A typical laughter yoga session comprises elements such as deep breathing, movement, chanting, and structured laughter exercises. For example, the instructor might ask you to pretend you are popping laughter pills, each one causing a different type of laughter. Or you might go around the room having conversations with your fellow practitioners, except all the words are replaced by laughter.
To reap the benefits, you must let go of any self-consciousness and get into the (intentional) silliness of it all. Let yourself be childlike and carefree. This is meant to be fun.
Benefits of Laughter Therapy
Many of the purported benefits are just what you’d expect: improved mood, more lightheartedness, fewer negative emotions, less stress.
Beyond that, laughter yoga and laughter meditation are both types of laughter therapy, a more clinical term that encompasses various methods of using laughter and humor therapeutically. Some of the ways laughter therapy might help you, according to research, is by:
- Lowering cortisol
- Reducing pain and improving physical functioning in older adults
- Improving sleep
- Alleviating loneliness
- Lessening depression and anxiety symptoms
- Improving cardiovascular health
- Reducing inflammation and boosting immune function
Arguably, laughter is also a form of exercise. You won’t get ripped sitting on the couch watching your favorite rom-com, but you’ll activate those core muscles and burn a few calories. Maybe we should put laughter on the list of microworkouts.
Granted, the studies in this area aren’t of the highest quality. They tend to be small and, as the authors of several recent meta-analyses have pointed out, subject to bias. But do we really need research to prove that laughter feels good and improves quality of life? Sure, if someone is going to make grandiose claims about laughter curing cancer or something, they’d better be prepared to back that up with hard data. Asserting that a laughter meditation will brighten your mood and improve your outlook on life? I’m prepared to accept that hypothesis.
Laughter Meditation Video
Now it’s time for you to give it a try. The video below is only six minutes long, and it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Try it out, then come back and leave a comment letting me know how you’re feeling!
Need more meditation in your life? Sign up for my 21-day Meditation Challenge HERE.