I've done various types of yoga in my time, but I always remember seeing a programme a few years ago which introduced me to the concept of something called Laughter Yoga.
I'm pretty sure the class they covered was based in America – probably California. But it fascinated me at the time and has continued to do so.
At the time, I think my intrigue was more around how 'the world has gone mad' that such ridiculous things exist but, over the years, my views have softened and I've always been mindful as to how good I feel after a bloody good laugh.
As The Business Enjoyment Coach, I felt that it was my duty to find out more about this unusual, but clearly fun, practice.
According to Google, there were only two Laughter Yoga classes that were going on in Yorkshire. One in Huddersfield and one in York – both a good 30-40 minute drive away. The York date was the most convenient for me, no booking or equipment was required so I put it in my diary and, when the day arrived, set off.
The venue was just a back room in a pub and, once everyone had turned up we were only 5 people, 2 of whom were the instructors. As a natural introvert this was not a problem for me. If there had been 25 people bouncing around, I may have been more reticent.
Everyone was, as you'd imagine, very friendly and, after a few introductions, we began.
First of all there was a brief introduction.
Laughter Yoga was developed in India in the mid-1990s and is a practice of prolonged voluntary laughter without the usual triggers, based on the premise that the mind does not know that we are faking it. The benefits of Laughter Yoga can include a better mood, less stress, more oxygen in the body (which makes us more alert) better social relationships and a resilience to life's ups and downs.
All of this is stuff that I try and develop in my clients, so I knew that it was worth my while in coming along.
We then ran through a few standard practices that we would use throughout the session to acknowledge the activity we had just done, centre ourselves and reconnect with the breath and body. It involved clapping, breathing, bending and, of course, laughing.
Next we started the yoga proper, with a series of short exercises, each one about 30 to 60 seconds long. It was clear that there were hundreds to choose from and more being learnt all the time as even one of the instructors kept saying “where did you learn that one from?” as a new one was introduced.
In many respects, the exercises were along the lines of a free form drama group. They required you to act things out, move around, pretend to be different things – all the while having smiling and laughing at the centre of the piece. As much as possible, interaction with the other participants was encouraged, as laughter is a form of social bonding and the energy increases when you connect with another.
For example, one exercise required you to imagine that you were walking around on your phone, talking to a friend who was telling you the funniest story you ever heard. And it got funnier and funnier as you went along. So you laughed louder and louder and deeper and deeper. Then, as you passed one of the others, you'd put your 'phone' to their ear and vice versa and you'd laugh along to the story that their 'friend' was telling.
Another situation was where you had to develop the personal of a pantomime villain and went around either twiddling your moustache chuckling in an evil way – or cackling like a witch or crone.
There were stifled giggles, gobbledegook arguments that descend into laughter and magic fingers that made your body laugh where you touched it (had to be careful with that one !!)
I really liked one where you had to pretend that something really annoying had happened and, instead of getting annoyed, you laugh about it. Not a bad practice in itself.
I've no idea how long all of this went on for but, eventually, we wrapped up the session. In normal yoga, the standard is to lie down for a relaxation exercise. Here, we lay down all right, but in a circle, heads pointed inwards and, without forcing anything, just laugh. By now you're nicely warmed up and you've got to know everyone quite well, so the laughter becomes addictive. Laughter rolled around the group in waves and, just as you'd think it had died down, someone would splutter into life and we'll be off again.
By the time we finished my head was thumping (in a good way) and my stomach was hurting. Great core muscle exercise. We then had a bit of a debrief and retired to the bar for a more standard form of socialising.
My overall reflections are these.
After just one session, I can't comment on the long term health benefits, however, logically it all makes sense and I'm definitely on board with the concept.
For me there are two key things that are needed to get the best out of Laughter Yoga and, in turn, Laughter Yoga can help you develop.
First of all, you need to shed your inhibitions. If you're going to feel awkward prancing around like an idiot, you're going to struggle with this practice. On the other hand, if you can't do it in a safe and friendly environment, then it suggests that you're never going to truly relax and be yourself outside in the real world. Exercises like this stretch muscles other than just physical ones and increase our range, meaning that we are capable of so much more. Definitely something that people should do more of.
Secondly, I found it very difficult to get out of my head and just 'be' in my body. I already knew that this was something that I could do with working on, so Laughter Yoga is actually an excellent way to help me with that which, in turn, will give me better results.
In short, I really enjoyed it. I will definitely be going back and I recommend that everyone else should throw caution to the wind and give it a go.
At worst, you'll have a damn good laugh.
If you'd like to know more about classes in Yorkshire, you can have a look at the following links