‘With 10%-20% of laughter preceded by anything joke like’, ‘laughter is primarily a social vocalization that binds people together’- Robert Provine
Laughter comes as an involuntary arising for us all, gracing us with a rush of positive sensation both physically and emotionally. Some people laugh easily even compulsively, while others find it a rare expression. As if weighed down by an invisible blanket of rationality, we can seem out of step with the lightheartedness of laughter.
Regardless of which camp we find ourselves in, yoga suggests that we can increase our frequency and capacity to laugh, conditioning our bodies and minds for when the opportunity arises.
Laughter, though seemingly random at first glance, has common patterns within societies across the globe. Here are some of the intriguing highlights that sociologists have discovered.
- Men are commonly the instigators of humor, with woman laughing 126% more then men in cross gender conversations.
- Romantically it is the laughter of the female not the male that is critical to a healthy cross-gender relationship.
- Men are more interested in women who laugh heartily in their presence. (1)
Not only is laughter a joy to behold, science has discovered that laughter brings with it a treasure trove of physical benefits.
- Our pain threshold significantly increases after laughter (2)
- Mirthful laughter decreases cortisol and adrenaline while boasting the body’s tumour eating ‘natural killer cells’. (3)
- Laughter Yoga is as effective in decreasing depression in the elderly as group exercise. (4)
In 1995 Dr Madan Kataria introduced Laughter or (Hasya) Yoga. With claims that a practice of prolonged voluntary laughter leads to real & contagious laughter, the movement spread quickly, now with over 8000 ‘laughter clubs’ in 100 countries worldwide.
The technique has 4 steps. Each session follows these steps in the order suggested.
- Clapping- awakens dormant energy in the person and the environment around them.
- Breathing- circulates this energy throughout the body; balances brain function while opening the diaphragm.
- Childlike Playfulness- takes us from the rational ‘make me laugh adult mindset’ into the gleeful and spontaneous perspective of the child.
- Laughter Yoga Practices- emulates the action of laughing, exercises the muscles involved in laughter while progressively stimulating the hormones involved in laughing.
I personally have gained the most from these techniques not in a group session but with a friend. A laughter partner can give you the safe space to practice the art of rolling with the intention to laugh. I selected a friend that I naturally felt an affinity with and regularly met with this person to perform the steps. To my surprise I have become a surfer of laughter, able to feel an opportunity arising, catching the wave and ridding it for all its worth.
(1) University of Vienna
(2) Oxford University
(3) Tabatabai University
(4) University of California