Arts and Culture

Laughter yoga: the secret to a healthy life?

Efan Willis spoke to two local laughter yoga instructors to find out how they got their start, and why its benefits are no laughing matter…

‘Healthy.’ That word would probably be close to mind if you were asked to visualise a yoga session. ‘Relaxing,’ too, most likely. And what about ‘silent’?

Silent but for the occasional order of the stone-faced instructor, usually followed by the hum of a dozen slow exhales.

That is likely how most people would picture a traditional yoga session.

But laughter yoga is far from traditional.

It is organised chaos. It’s a group of people laughing like lunatics in a Mumbai public park — or at least, that’s how it started.

Relaxing it is not.

Silent it definitely is not. But healthy?


By combining pranayama (breathing) techniques and forced laughter, Dr Madan Kataria, the founder of laughter yoga, found two things: that the forced laughter always turned into genuine amusement, and that the proven benefits to body and soul felt endless.

In 2019, an American study looked at the effects of laughter yoga therapy on 32 mental health nurses, and its findings were conclusive: the number of nurses that experienced burnout due to their stressful careers dropped by 30.66%.

Effectiveness of Laughter yoga Therapy on job Burnout Syndromes among Psychiatric
Nurses (source).

Sara Kay, who runs the Serious Laughter yoga club in Manchester, said: “When I get up in the morning, I laugh on purpose to start releasing positive chemicals, and it always makes me feel happier.

“Because I’m laughing every day, I have a lot of resilience in me to cope with challenges.

“I would say it lowers my stress levels, increases my positivity, and allows me to cope with life’s curveballs.

“The benefits for newcomers are almost endless; they’ll feel less tired and more aware, they’ll feel that their immune system is boosted by laughter, and they’ll enjoy a better outlook on the world.”

Sara began her laughter yoga journey in 2016. After being diagnosed with depression earlier that year, she took up the exercise at the advice of her therapist.

Now, she’s laughed with more than 10,500 people, and is looking forward to celebrating the sixth anniversary of Serious Laughter.

Sara Kay, who runs and owns the Serious Laughter yoga club

“I call laughter a superpower because it really can make a difference to anyone,” said the former e-commerce business owner.

“I was diagnosed with depression in January 2016. After being divorced with teenage children, I came out as LGBT.

“My therapist at the time said to me ‘find yourself a wellbeing tool’, so that’s how I found out about laughter yoga.

“The class that I went to in Manchester was only open once a month, and that wasn’t enough for me, so I went and trained to learn all about it, and soon after ended up running my own laughter yoga club.

“Starting Serious Laughter happened unintentionally, really, but now it feels like my life’s purpose to make a difference to other people.”

Sara Kay leads a laughter yoga session at Serious Laughter.

Its benefits have also been marked by the NHS, who have started commissioning laughter yoga classes in Coventry and Warwickshire.

Jordan Fawcett practiced traditional yoga techniques for years before discovering laughter yoga through a men’s health magazine.

Like some, he believed it was a gimmick that would leave no lasting effect – that is, until he walked out of his first session.

“When I was in my early 20s, I had a very different lifestyle,” said the 32-year-old. “I was quite unhealthy, enjoyed going out and drinking, and eating all the wrong foods.

“I wanted to make lifestyle changes, so I got into yoga to do that.

“After about three or four years, I had totally transformed and improved my physique, and become much healthier, because I very much got into the health and fitness side of yoga as well.

“I thought it was going to be one of those where you try it once and never again; I thought it was going to be a waste of time.

“But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“I felt the physical and mental benefits almost immediately. People were on the floor laughing their heads off and everyone came out feeling totally boosted.”

Each session lasts roughly an hour, and, while teaching his first few classes, Dr Kataria discovered that the benefits are not strictly mental.

Because the exercise consists of rigorous laughter and constant movement, some experienced practitioners have found that it serves as a great core workout, too.

Jordan added: “I was looking at ways of toning my core, and it said in this magazine that laughter yoga is really good as a core workout.”

From humble beginnings, Dr Kataria’s laughter has spread around the world, and his laughter yoga is now practiced in more than 5,000 clubs worldwide.

And those who are sceptical about the power of laughter wouldn’t be the first to question it, said Jordan: “I was probably exactly the same as you when I first heard of laughter yoga – I was really sceptical about trying it out.

“But the feeling that I got after my first session completely changed my conception about it.

“I would encourage people to try it and even if they might feel self-conscious about letting go of themselves, all the classes I’ve been were very non-judgmental environments.

“I think not taking yourself too seriously and letting go of your inhibitions can do you a world of good.”

With aching cheeks and teary eyes, Dr. Kataria defied the conventions of traditional yoga, shared his teachings around the world, and proved one truth.

Sometimes, silence really is overrated.

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