The Origins of Laughter Yoga

Laughter Yoga Class
Laughter Yoga Class. Tim Gerard Barker/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Laughter Yoga emerged as bona fide trend around 2007, when it was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and embraced by the popular media as a novelty human interest story. A decade later, it's still going strong and is practiced worldwide through free local laughter clubs, conferences, and festivals all over the world. Although it originated in India and definitely includes laughing, don't expect it to have much in common with the yoga classes offered down at your local studio or gym.

Laughter yoga is definitely heavy on the former and light on the later.

Origins of Laughter Yoga

According to the Laughter Yoga International website, the method originated in 1995 when Dr. Madan Kataria, having written on the health benefits of laughter, convened a group of students in a Mumbai, India, park to test whether incorporating regular laughter into people's lives would improve their well-being. Though at first he relied on telling jokes to get the laughter started, he soon discovered that simulating laughter (loudly chanting HO HO HO and HA HA HA) offered the same benefits as (and often led to) the real thing. A student of yoga, Kataria also incorporated deep breathing and simple stretches into his sessions. This is the methodology that laughter yoga still uses today, training Certified Laughter Yoga Professionals as leaders of Laughter Yoga Clubs, which typically meet several times a week.

Laughter Is Medicine...

Medical research has suggested that laughing is a good way to reduce stress and stimulate the release of the body’s feel-good hormones (endorphins). Kataria’s Laughter Clubs, as well as other forms of laughter therapy, are popping up all over in response to people's very real need to relieve stress.

Kataria also offers books and DVDs and even Skype laughter sessions for those who don’t have access to a local Laughter Club. However, participation in a community activity and connecting with other humans is a big part of Laughter Yoga's success in helping people feel better and experience more joy. With clubs in over 70 countries, the changes of having access to group sessions is pretty good. 

But Is it Yoga?

Although yoga can take many forms, it is most often associated in modern times with the performance of postures known as asana practice. Laughter Yoga doesn't include much in the way of yoga asanas, so don't go in to it expecting a workout of any kind. Light stretching and meditation is included but you won't need to bring your mat or don your sweat-wicking athletic wear. Nonetheless, it can still be a good way to blow off some steam and lighten your emotional load in an over-stressed world.


Laughter Yoga International:

Laughter Research Conducted at Loma Linda University Medical Center. March 11, 1999

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