This form of exercise came to my attention when a reader (Sue Williams, an owner of SooZe Yoga) contacted me to take a peek at her Oakbank studio.
Seeing that I occasionally challenge myself to do something that can't be done with a doughnut or drink in my hand, laughter yoga seemed like a fun idea. As it was a class designed for laughing, my usual exercise worries dissipated. I felt comfortable knowing things would be fine even if my only successful stretch of the day happened when I donned my pants.
Unlike some advanced yoga classes, which look as if only humans born without bones could join in, this form is great for beginners. Heck, if I did it, anyone can. The only time I stretch is when the TV remote is out of reach.
My instructor, Elaine Nystrom, offered interesting statistics that made me ponder laughter further -- "In the 1950s, people laughed an average of 18 minutes per day. Today we laugh...less than six." The humour-laughter.com website wrote that children laugh approximately "400 times a day." No wonder my kids don't have time to clean their rooms.
Some of you might wonder what laughing and yoga have in common. For many, a good chuckle is seen as raucous action best done with beer, friends and a couple dozen chicken wings. And yoga is viewed as a quiet, gentle activity meant to calm the participants. A marriage between Queen Elizabeth II and Bob Dylan would seem a more natural union than joining laughter with yoga.
Laughter yoga's creator, Dr. Madan Kataria, would disagree with that statement. He's certain his exercise offers a blend of "psychological and physiological" results. Starting with forced laughter, this technique usually blossoms into the real thing. According to him, the body doesn't distinguish between real or fake chuckles.
To prove his theory, Dr. Kataria's website offers many worldwide examples of laughter clubs. My favourite video-clip showed actor John Cleese doing lion laughter. In India, he and hundreds of club members ran toward each other with tongues dangling from their mouths. A Monty Python skit would exact fewer sniggers. Cleese also highlighted Indian prisoners as they performed these exercises. I've never been to jail, but I imagine if Canadian inmates ran toward each other in our prisons, laughter wouldn't be the response I'd anticipate.
To give laughter yoga a true test, I went with my father and sister. My dad is a former NHL hockey player. Over the years, he's received (and has given) many bumps and bruises. He now experiences occasional back pain. My sister is being treated for cancer. She wanted to see if this form of yoga could aid her in releasing stress and in building her immune system. My reason to try this class was simple. I needed an excuse to start moving again. I'm about as flexible as a soda cracker.
Once the class was done, my sister revealed her sides got a good work out. And my father's back felt better, too. But he was lucky he didn't put it out. I didn't write that because of anything the instructor did. She was great. You just need to know my dad personally. He's the most competitive human alive. Despite being in his 70s and never having had done yoga, he treated each stretch like he'd be cut from the team if he didn't outperform the others. My dad transformed laughter yoga into competitive yoga 101.
When I was done the exercise, I couldn't stop smiling. Some joy came from the session itself and the remainder of pleasure was drawn from the knowledge I'd burned anywhere between 100 to 200 calories -- laughing.
Once we overcame the idea of laughing for no reason, the class really was fun. I know my sister enjoyed herself, because she said "Every time I looked at you -- I laughed!" Had she said this any other time, I might have taken it as an insult.