Laugh it Off

What if you knew that you were born with the power to fight off 70 percent of illnesses? Stress alone contributes to upwards of that amount and can be controlled with something we’ve been doing almost since birth – the ability to laugh.

Laughter yoga clubs have been popping up all over the U.S., although the practice hasn’t garnered much attention yet. It isn’t the traditional, familiar form of yoga in a studio on a mat, though one class will give you similar physiological benefits as any conventional style.

Started in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria, a family physician who started a club to study the benefits of laughter firsthand, the practice combines rhythmic clapping, breath control – or pranayama – and light stretching.

“As adults, we kind of live in our heads and we don’t have the opportunity to be spontaneous, be silly and have fun and let that go,” said Meg Scott, a laughter yoga leader who splits her time between Columbus and Ft. Lauderdale, spreading the magic of mirth.

During a laughter session, the exercises are designed to change the chemistry in your body so that your endorphin levels rise and your cortisone (stress hormone) levels drop. Research shows that laughter increases lung capacity and exercises the diaphragm and abdominal muscles.

The exercises are completed improv-style, which forces your body into continuous laughter until you eventually start truly laughing. Instructors will stress making eye contact with others to give you the benefits of connecting with those around you.

Scott compares it to a meditation session in which each person experiences it differently, but you have to allow yourself to enter that mindset in order to experience the benefits.

If you start laughter yoga as a young adult, Scott believes you will set yourself up to develop the ability to laugh off situations you may otherwise perceive to be bigger problems, which will have a massive payoff as you get more responsibilities with age.

However, she thinks the idea of being too self-conscious and not comfortable with yourself when you’re younger may be the reason it hasn’t quite caught on. “It’s getting your head wrapped around it and giving yourself permission to do it,” she said.

Joyce Johnson started attending laughter yoga club about six years ago after stumbling upon its description in a search for exercises to incorporate into her work as a respiratory therapist. She decided to become an instructor to spread the practice to her patients. Originally she thought it would benefit those she was caring for, but it ended up being a savior for her when she developed breast cancer a couple years ago.

“I got chemo every other week, and the weeks I got it I was so exhausted and just worn out from just moving from place to place. On the days that I taught the class I felt exhausted and exhilarated at the same time,” Johnson said. “It just made me feel more calm and relaxed and peaceful.”

Laughter has helped remind Johnson to be more upbeat, more optimistic, and to always find a way to keep a smile on others’ faces.

Laughter Yoga is currently held at Bexley Public Library for free.
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