Laughing Meditation: Why & How To Do Laughter Yoga
I remember back in 2010 a friend of mine asked me if I’ve ever tried laughing meditation. I looked at him strangely and was like, “say what??” He proceeded to explain to me what it is and even had me do it with him. Since then I was hooked!
What is Laughing Meditation? It sounds oxymoronic given the serenity associated with meditation and the rambunctious nature of laughter but laughing meditation exists. It is a form of yoga called Hasya Yoga which was developed by Dr. Madan Kataria of Mumbai, India. Although relatively young as a meditation practice, Laughing Meditation has research to back its claims of positive effects. It is easily performed and brings with it benefits–physiological and psychological–which can claim the old adage “laughter is the best medicine.”
What Is Laughing Meditation?
Laughing meditation, Laughing Yoga, Laughter Yoga Meditation or Hasya Yoga is a meditation practice that originated in India in 1995.
Hasya is the Sanskrit word for laughter.
Its founder is Dr. Madan Kataria, the “Guru of Giggling,” believe that humor and levity helped to keep patients relaxed which speeds up recovery.
Dr. Kataria started a “laughter club” in a local park and from there, grew Hasya Yoga into a phenomenon of 6,000 laughter clubs in over 60 countries worldwide.
“Laugh For No Reason,” Dr. Kataria’s book, is a good reference and starting point for anyone who wishes to learn more about laughing Meditation and its therapeutic effects.
The book details how to conduct a laughing session without using jokes.
It also has information about how to start a local laughter
Who Is Laughing Meditation For?
The Guru of Giggling sums up Laughing Yoga as “prepping your mind and body for happiness.”
Laughing meditation aims to bridge good health, social interaction, and world peace through laughter.
With no languages or cultural barriers, laughter is universal.
Hasya Yoga would be a fine addition to modes of therapy used by psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, health care professionals, teachers, and social workers.
Other professions that may benefit from its practice also include HR managers, life coaches, office professionals, basically anyone who desires to find release and relaxation with a combination of laughter and exercise.
Laughter yoga meditation has been effectively used on students and office workers, allowing for a break from the daily grind of life.
What Are The Benefits Of Laughing Meditation?
The practice of Hasya Yoga helps improve 5 areas in a person’s life: Mind, Body, Emotions, Social Connections, and Spiritual Balance.
It centers you by helping you calm down and be mindful of your situation.
Life is fast-paced, even school-aged children are not spared from stress that builds and robs people of joy.
Stress leaves us susceptible to infections and illness.
Laughing soothes the mind and is a balm for the soul.
It’s not going to cure you or take away all your problems but the lift in your spirits will do wonders for your outlook, which in turn, has positive effects on the body’s response to stress.
Hasya Yoga incorporates stretching into the routine.
10 minutes of it is comparable to 30 minutes on a rowing machine.
The exercise triggers a release of happy hormones – serotonin for better sleep, dopamine for a mood boost, and endorphins for pain relief.
Performing 10 to 30 minutes of Laughing Meditation increases the flow of oxygenated blood in the body.
This results in lowered blood pressure, reduction in allergy symptoms, lessening of asthma flare-ups, and managing pain for chronic arthritis.
Laughing helps you to process your emotions.
When you find yourself in difficult times, the practice of laughing meditation trains you to be composed in the face of negative people and problematic situations.
By focusing on laughing, you get an emotional release that allows you to address your emotions and other feelings that may be suppressed.
As you open yourself up with introspection, you also open yourself to others.
With Laughing Yoga, you build connections with others.
Being part of a group enlarges your network which has many positive implications as well.
Some of these include a wider emotional support system, a motivated workforce, helps you form caring and sharing connections towards others instantly, and stronger ties to the community to name a few.
The practice of Hasya Yoga also improves mental performance.
An increase in the flow of oxygenated blood throughout the body–the brain in particular needs 25% more–energizes you, making you perform more efficiently.
What Happens In A Laughing Meditation Class?
Laughter meditation is best performed in a group.
You get the benefits of bonding and finding common ground among the participants over the shared experience of laughing together.
Dr. Kataria stresses not to worry if the laughter drawn from the participants is genuine or forced.
He says the body doesn’t know the difference between a fake one and a genuine laugh.
The body will respond positively to the laughter and will eventually evolve into a real laugh as everyone is encouraged to make eye contact and go around the room.
The usual Laughing Yoga class starts with clapping and chanting of ho-ho-ho or ha-ha-ha.
A rhythm is established and continues for a few minutes.
The palms must meet during the clapping to stimulate the pressure point on the hands.
While the repetition of the ho-ho-ho and ha-ha-ha stimulates the diaphragm and helps to get you started on the yoga breathing.
Additionally, the chanting builds positive energy among the participants.
The class is then lead to a series of breathing exercises.
This brings relaxation to the mind and body.
Pro tip: Your exhalation should be longer than your inhalation to activate the autonomic nervous system’s calming response.
This also prepares your lungs and body for the laugh-fest that follows.
A 10-minute meditation would follow 2 to 3 minutes of stretching and then another 3 minutes of clapping and chanting.
Breathing exercises come after for about 2 to 3 minutes and will close with 3 minutes of sitting or lying down in silence and contemplation.
A longer 45-minute version would include longer chanting and clapping that is alternated with the deep breathing exercises.
The longer periods of deep breathing exercises let you cleanse the lungs and bring you to a more profound relaxed state.
Movement and childlike playfulness are encouraged to lower inhibitions.
This pushes you to embrace laughing without reason.
This is the point of the session where genuine laughter comes out.
And as we all know laughter is contagious, it sets off a chorus of titters, chuckles, and full-on raucous laughter.
Play and movement are encouraged with participants interacting with each other and always maintaining eye contact.
It may take a few sessions for your laughter to “flow like a fountain” but letting it loose without fear of judgment and looking silly is liberating.
Laughter exercises are incorporated with some poses derived from Yoga such as:
Greeting laughter where everybody walks around to other people in the Namaste greeting – with the palms pressed together on the chest. People shake hands, bow to each other, laugh and look into other people’s eyes.
Another one is the Lion laughter where the lion pose can be assumed.
This can be done by kneeling on the floor and sitting on the heels.
The heels should be a comfortable distance apart with the hands resting on your sides.
This can be alternated with the lotus position as well. While assuming the pose, widen your eyes and stick your tongue out.
Make claws with the hands while stretching it out and don’t forget to laugh.
Other playful laughter exercises to add are:
The Silent laughter where you open your mouth wide and laugh not making any sounds while looking into people’s eyes and making faces or funny gestures.
There is also the Gradient laughter where you begin with a smile and build up to a gentle giggle.
Slowly increase the laugh’s intensity until it is a full-blown hearty laugh.
Reverse directions as you slow down and calm back down to a smile.
The Heart-to-heart laughter is encouraged if you are comfortable with touching or hugging.
In this laughter exercise, participants move close to other people and hold their hands and laugh together. With some giving or receiving hugs during the exercise.
Last, there is the Value-based laughter exercise.
These laughter exercises are intended to add positive feelings or emotions gestures and situations while laughing to develop new auto-responses in the unconscious.
The session is brought to a close with breathing exercises to bring the energy down.
This can be a guided relaxation of breathing techniques.
This is done either by sitting on the floor or lying in stillness and contemplation.
Two other alternatives are Humming where your eyes are closed and your lips just meeting as you hum.
Take a long breath and hum as you feel vibrations on your face.
This humming exercise is especially good for those who have nasal blockages or chronic sinusitis.
The vibrations increase the blood circulation in the face and may help to loosen mucus to clear air passageways.
The other one is Ho Ho Ha Ha Dancing which will help ground participants as they move their hands like they are pushing air forward with their knees bent.
Moving around in a soft, swaying motion while quietly chanting “Ha Ha” will ground you and bring the energy to normal levels.
Here is a video from laughterYoga.org that shows the 4 steps that happen in a Hasya Yoga session.
While this video from Bianca Spears walks you through a 20-minute session of Laughter Yoga and meditation with step-by-step instructions.
How To Get The Laughter Flowing During A Meditation Session
1. Sit in a circle so everyone can see and can make eye contact with each other. There should be enough space to comfortably move around but not too spread out.
2. Everyone sits in silence with the Laughter Leader reminding participants to sit in silent contemplation. Communicating with eyes, making faces, or funny sounds must be avoided to keep the conscious mind disengaged.
3. Sit in silence, eyes closed, and regulate your breathing. The Laughter Leader will start the laughter going with Gradient Laughter or making Ha Ha sounds until the laughter becomes fairly consistent.
4. Some people may be moved to tears. This is a normal reaction as pent up emotions are breaking through the surface. It is a cathartic reaction and should it happen during a session, do not comfort the person, just let it happen and allow the emotions to wash over them.
5. The Laughter Leader will ease out the participants from the meditation state back to silence and gentle breathing. Occasional laughter may come up and the Laughter Leader will wait until everyone settles before leading the group into Guided Relaxation. The length of the Guided Relaxation is dependent on a few factors like the number of participants, the intensity of the session, and when the session was conducted in the day among other things.
Laughing meditation is unconventional, may seem odd but is liberating for many who have practiced it.
It’s a success despite its short existence which makes it a phenomenon.
The response has shown that people are hungry for release from their inner turmoil and are open to alternatives that require no medication or heavy, emotional acrobatics.
Recent research, although limited, has revealed the positive effects of Hasya Yoga and laughter.
Release your stress and lift your mood by trying out Laughing Meditation. If it doesn’t work for you, at least you had a good laugh.
American Physiological Society. (2008, April 10). Anticipating A Laugh Reduces Our Stress Hormones, Study Shows. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080407114617.htm
Dolgoff-K. R, Baldwin A, Johnson MS, Edling N, Sethi GK. (2012 Sep-October 18). Effect of laughter yoga on mood and heart rate variability in patients awaiting organ transplantation: a pilot study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22894892
Dunbar R. I. M., et al. (2011 September 14). Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold. Retrieved from https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2011.1373
Kanigel R. (2007 October 25). How Laughter Yoga Heals, Plus 6 Fun Exercises to Try. Retrieved from https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/laughter-cure
Laughter Yoga University. (n.d.) What is Laughter Yoga & How can it help you?. Retrieved from https://laughteryoga.org/laughter-yoga/about-laughter-yoga/
Laughter Yoga University. (n.d.). What Happens in a Laughter Yoga Session. Retrieved fromhttps://laughteryoga.org/what-happens-in-a-laughter-yoga-session/