Having a bit of a laugh: Laughter yoga

By Gill South

For a bit of light relief from a heavy workload, Gill South tries a yoga session with a unique difference.

Just another day in paradise. I have a sick child at home and a load of work to get through. But my day is brightened by the visit of two laughter yoga therapists, Louise Stevens and Bob Harvey.

I have come across laughter yoga through a friend, Dr Barbara Hochstein, whose Aratika Trust runs retreats for cancer patients, giving them joyful experiences over a weekend to help support them on their journey. Barbara watched the group transform, their shoulders back, eyes sparkling once therapist Liz Maluschnig was done with them.

The laughter exercises I will do today with Louise and Bob are interspersed with deep breathing - this is the yoga bit. We get rid of the stale air in the bottom of our lungs and breathe in lots of fresh oxygen. Deep breathing techniques increase oxygen to the cells and are important factors in living a disease-free and energetic life.

Laughter Yoga is the fastest growing health and fitness system in the world. It was invented in 1995 by Indian GP Madan Kataria. He found that it was useful laughing in a group, making eye contact, physically moving the body while laughing and laughing out loud. Laughter is the best medicine and all that.

I drag my 11-year-old son into the session, and his face says: "How could you do this to me, mother?" But the laughter is infectious despite his self-consciousness.

Children laugh 150 times a day, but adults only laugh about 10 times a day, says Louise. Bob says dogs laugh and tell jokes. Isn't that a gorgeous idea?

My laughter is relatively false though the others' laughing is infectious. Laughing falsely is not a problem because your sub-conscious doesn't know it's false. It's having the same effect decreasing stress, releasing endorphins and boosting the immune system.

We do this initial "ha ha ha, ho ho ho" exercise, expelling air. It's something you can do sitting in traffic, says Bob. Bob suggests road rage laughter instead of letting your temper rise.

Use laughter as a physical release. I could just see me laughing away like a madwoman as someone cuts me up. But I'm not allowed to do any evil heh heh heh laughter please, says Louise, more of a ha ha, belly laughter.

I suggest why don't I just watch some stand-up comedy - it's my favourite thing and there's a recent Jason Byrne skit at the NZ International Comedy Festival which has me weeping with laughter every time I see it.

Louise says a joke will usually cause around three or four seconds of laughter whereas a laughter yoga session, a good one, will have 20 minutes of belly laughter in it.

Singing in the shower is good, says Louise. We do an exercise, laughing away and acting as if we are in the shower.

Quite a few elderly women go to Louise's sessions on the Shore and one has told Louise her voice is stronger than her friends', thanks to laughter yoga.

Women's voices tend to fade as they get older and people talk over them, poor things.

Louise suggests that if I am feeling a bit down while out at the shops, to get out my mobile and laugh uproariously as if I am in a conversation.

Just make sure that you have your phone switched off because if it rings while you are doing this, you'll look a right nana, she warns.

- NZ Herald

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