Laughing yoga cultivates merry mindfulness
Members of the Laughter Yoga club practise laughing during morning exercise at a public park in Hanoi (Kham, Reuters)
Laughter yoga, unlike Pilates yoga, water yoga, aerial yoga and other offshoots of the ancient eastern practice of uniting body and breath, doesn't aspire to sculpted arms and bendy backs.
Laughter yoga just wants you to be happy.
"You may not lose fat, but you will lose the idea that you're fat," said Sebastien Gendry, founder and executive director of the American School of Laughter Yoga.
"People come because it's the exercise they can do and it makes them feel good," said Gendry, who founded the school in 2004. "It's the easiest form of yoga. They can't twist, they can't bend, but they can do this."
A blend of yogic deep breathing, stretching, and laughter exercises that cultivate child-like playfulness, Laughter Yoga was developed 17 years ago in Mumbai, India by Dr. Madan Kataria. Laughter Yoga International now claims 600 clubs in 60 countries.
Gendry, who was born in France, was the first American to train as a certified Laughter Yoga teacher.
Central to Laughter Yoga is the tenet that the body cannot differentiate between pretend and genuine laughter.
"We fake it," Gendry said of the group classes he leads. "We simulate to stimulate. We go through the motions of joy to create the chemistry of joy."
In one exercise attendees are instructed to repeat "ho-ho, ha-ha-ha" while clapping hands; in another they are directed to "picture yourself jumping for joy."
The exercises are unapologetically silly and very shortâ20 to 40 seconds each in an hour-long class, Gendry said, to facilitate the shift from thinking to feeling.
"The goal is not to work on muscle mass," he said. "It is to overcome critical thinking."
Another goal is to connect with classmates.
"Laughter is a means to an end," he explained. "In hatha yoga (the yoga commonly taught in studios and health clubs), the focus is the breath. In laughter yoga, the focus is the "dristi," or gaze, of the other. It builds community."
It's also easy. Gendry said it usually takes two days to master the fundamentals of the method.
"For those who want to teach, it takes a week," he said. "Truly, this is not rocket science."
New York City-based fitness expert Lashaun Dale, who has been teaching movement, fitness and yoga for over 20 years, said she really enjoyed the Laughter Yoga class she attended.
"It's a hoot," said Dale. "It releases so much stress. You can't help but laugh. First, there's discomfort; then it's hard to stop."
Dale said the class favored gentle, healing movement over the intense stretching and exertion of the vinyasa flow of typical yoga classes.