The latest Yoga and health craze to sweep the world holds a special promise for the aged. You’ve seen it on CNN, BBC, even in a Time magazine cover story --- everyone is talking about this strange new Yoga where you roar with laughter to get healthy.
Hundreds of thousands of people in more than 50 countries have taken to Laughter Yoga, many spending up to an hour a day, laughing to improve their physical and mental health.
According to the Founder of Laughter Yoga, Indian medical doctor Madan Kataria, it’s the aged who report maximum benefit from laughing. In this interview we asked him why.
Dr Kataria, why do you say that Laughter Yoga is especially effective for older people?
I don’t say that. They tell me. Every day I get emails and phone calls and letters from people all over the world thanking me for creating Laughter Yoga, and telling me how it has changed their lives. I visit Laughter Clubs and studios in India and around the world, and talk to the members and they tell me. Laughter Yoga is good for everybody, but it’s especially good for older people.
What are the main benefits?
Exercise and mobility. Laughter is a gentle aerobic exercise. Older people don’t get enough exercise. They start losing mobility, and get stiff and sore.
Laughter exercises the diaphragm, abdominal, intercostal, respiratory and facial muscles. It includes flexing and exercise of the arm, leg, and back muscles. Lots of people tell me that they have recovered full mobility and flexibility from practising Laughter Yoga, even after years of stiffness.
A Laughter session also works the heart and stimulates circulation. It lowers blood pressure, tones the heart muscle, and improves the elasticity of arteries. Dr William Fry in America measured that 20 minutes of laughter is equivalent to 10 minutes on a rowing machine. Regular Laughter Yoga sessions exercise the heart and improve overall cardiac health.
Laughter also speeds healing. Many hospitals use medical clowns, laughter rooms, laughter trolleys with funny books and games and other techniques to get patients to laugh. The problem is that different people find different things funny. Many are switching to Laughter Yoga now, as it’s an easier and more reliable way to induce laughter.
When you laugh, your body releases lots of endorphin. This is a long-lasting natural painkiller that makes you feel good. Older people especially enjoy this because it takes away their aches and pains and makes them feel younger.
Finally, laughter is anti-ageing. Laughter contractions tone our facial muscles. They increase blood supply to the face, which is why people look flushed when they laugh. The influx of blood and nutrients nourishes the skin and makes it glow.
People look younger and more approachable when they laugh.
Are there mental benefits of Laughter Yoga?
Definitely. I think for many people the mental benefits are even more important than the physical improvements.
Depression and loneliness are major problems for older people. It is impossible to be depressed while you’re laughing. With sustained hearty laughter, your body releases hormones and chemicals that make you feel happy.
I get reports every week from people who have come out of severe depression, and stopped taking medication because of the practice of Laughter Yoga.
Laughter Yoga also tackles the loneliness issue. We practice Laughter Yoga in groups. When you laugh together, a special bond is formed between the people in that group. They start to care for one another; they celebrate each other’s birthdays and provide support in times of distress. In a way, you could say that our international Laughter Club Movement is one big extended family.
But the social effects extend beyond the Laughter Group. Laughter Yoga improves social skills, gives people confidence, and makes them better communicators. Many people tell me that they have changed and become more social, making new friends and finding new interests.
What about people who are losing mental capacity?
That’s a really interesting question. The onset of senile dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease reduces people’s ability to make humor judgments, so they tend to stop laughing altogether. They also stop moving and don’t get exercise, and this leads to fast physical deterioration.
Laughter Yoga does not require mental judgment and these people are able to participate. They respond dramatically to Laughter Yoga sessions, and the exercise can transform their state of health. It is evident that these people need Laughter Yoga more than others.
I wish to add that we have had similar dramatic results with Laughter Yoga for mentally challenged people, where both physical and mental skills show rapid development, even in older people.
How often should one laugh?
As often as you can. You can laugh too little but you can’t laugh too much. In India, hundreds of thousands of people meet at social Laughter Clubs in public parks, to laugh for an hour every day.
When I visit Laughter Clubs in India, people are proud to tell me that they haven’t missed a single session for many years. They feel it is so important to their health that they come to Laughter Club, be it rain or shine.
How can you laugh without jokes or humor?
Children laugh an average of 400 times a day without jokes or humor. Adults use their brains to judge whether they find something funny, and they laugh less than a dozen times a day. That’s just not enough laughter to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. Ten years ago, I started on a quest to find ways that we could laugh like children. I call it body laughter as there is no mental judgment involved. The result of my quest to laugh without humor is Laughter Yoga.
Can you laugh even if you don’t feel like laughing?
Yes. If you don’t feel like laughing that means you are depressed or your mind is upset in some way, often worrying about past or future events. Laughter Yoga does not need your mind. We laugh from the body, so you can laugh, no matter how upset or depressed you are. You forget your worries, depression or concerns. Body laughter is in the here and now.
But laughter is a powerful body-mind medicine. The body effect causes your mind to release a cocktail of hormones and chemicals, that will make you feel good and often will cure you of your worry or depression.
Why has Laughter Yoga spread so quickly?
I don’t market or advertise Laughter Yoga. I created it as a way for people to enjoy the benefits of laughter and I set it free.
The secret is that people just love to laugh. We grow up laughing and we keep the memories of the sheer joy and happiness of laughter inside us, even after we become adult and stop laughing.
When people come to Laughter Yoga, that inner child seems to come forward and revel in the joy of simply laughing. Of course, people talk about the physical and mental health benefits and they are very real, but I think it is the joy of laughter that brings people to Laughter Yoga.
In just 10 years, we have expanded from a few dozen to hundreds of thousands of people meeting to laugh together every day.
What happens in a Laughter Yoga session?
We start off with some gentle warming up exercises. These include breathing, stretching, chanting and clapping. There is a Laughter Leader or Teacher who guides you through the exercises.
We go onto different types of Laughter Exercises like Hearty Laughter, Silent Laughter, medium laughter, Lion Laughter, Swinging Laughter, One-meter Laughter, Cocktail Laughter and many others. We have hundreds of different exercises, so sessions are always varied. Laughter sessions are interspersed with Yogic breathing and stretching.
Sometimes we go on to do Laughter Meditation. This is an amazing sensation where the laughter just gushes forth from you like a fountain. It’s an exhilarating experience and is probably another reason that laughter Yoga is growing so fast.
Why do you laugh in a group?
It’s easier to practice Laughter Yoga in a group. The eye contact and social dynamics of the group make it easier for people to let go of their inhibitions and laugh.
In the West, groups are often 10 or 30 people. In India groups are often 80 – 150 people. In China, we have a group of almost 1,000 meeting regularly. In many countries entire schools are joining together to laugh in the morning assembly.
Sometimes people get together in bigger groups to laugh. So far the record is 10,000 people laughing together in the town square in Copenhagen, but there is talk of a much bigger Laughter session at the next Olympic Games.
Is it possible to laugh alone?
Yes. I laugh alone and many of many of our experienced teachers also do it. We are busy developing this technique for widespread use, but I think you need to learn Laughter Yoga and become proficient in groups before you can laugh alone.
How much does it cost?
Laughter Yoga started as a free movement. We have more than 5,000 Laughter Clubs in more than 50 countries that offer Laughter Yoga for free, or for a small donation to pay for the venue.
In addition, Laughter Yoga has moved into Yoga and fitness studios, and other venues, where people pay for the convenience of a nice environment and enjoy Laughter Sessions at convenient times.
All laughter professionals that we train and certify are encouraged to provide free Laughter Sessions as well as paid sessions.
Where can I find Laughter Yoga?
Ten years ago I would have answered, “At the park near my house in Mumbai,” as that was the only place. Today, there are more than 5,000 Laughter Clubs in more than 50 countries, with new
Clubs and studios opening every week.
I recommend first watching the Laughter Yoga videos online at our Laughter Yoga channel (www.youtube.com/laughteryoga). If you want to try Laughter Yoga, visit the Laughter Yoga website at www.laughteryoga.org to find Laughter Yoga clubs or studios in your area.
If you don’t find Laughter Yoga in your area, think about starting your own Laughter Club or ask Yoga or fitness studios in your area to offer it. If you’re in a retirement village or an aged care facility, ask the management to start it, or, arrange it yourself. It is becoming common for groups who want to laugh to send one or two of their members to train as Laughter Leaders, with the group sharing the cost.
Is it hard to learn?
No. Laughter Yoga exercises are simple and fun, and take only a few minutes to learn. You don’t need any special clothes or equipment --- only a place and a group of people.
Even training as a Laughter Yoga Leader is fast and fun. The course lasts two days, and costs a few hundred dollars. That gives you the skills and knowledge to run Laughter Yoga Sessions as free Clubs, or for pay.
We have a great many older people training as Laughter Yoga Leaders and even as Teachers. They take it on as a second career, either doing it part time, or even building a business around it. They make great Laughter Yoga Leaders, as they are older and wiser, and that comes through.
Where can one train?
I travel for 6-8 months a year, offering Training and Seminars and also Spiritual Retreats. In early 2007, I am scheduled to visit Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, New York, Canada, Los Angeles, Mexico, Switzerland and Hong Kong.
But there are hundreds of Certified Laughter Yoga Teachers offering classes all over the world. You can find them on our website or contact us for help.
Should Laughter Yoga be introduced at aged care facilities?
I believe that every aged care facility should offer Laughter Yoga. In India, two-thirds of the people attending Laughter Groups are seniors. When you are young, your body is more resilient, and you think you will live forever. When you become older, you become more in touch with your body, and realize that you need all the help you can get.
Laughter Yoga is cheap, it’s easy, and it gives dramatic results. It is not only for older people, but also for the staff who are caring for them. Where staff and residents laugh together, both report huge positive changes in the relationship between them. This is because Laughter Yoga improves communications and creates a shared sense of purpose between those who laugh together.
Staff and doctors tell us they are amazed at how it improves their energy levels, mood and outlook. What surprises them most is how laughter improves their ability to cope with the stress of their job.
We have had nothing but glowing reports from all aged care facilities and hospitals where Laughter Yoga has been introduced. Facilities where Laughter Yoga has been practiced for some time are reporting dramatic changes, including less illness and lower health and care costs.
I’m quite sure that Laughter Yoga will become standard at all health care facilities quite soon.
I am always happy to inform and help to spread the laughter, but all this talking has made me tired. Come, let’s laugh together!