Yo­gis embrace ‘medic­i­nal’ laugh­ter

Central Leader - - OUT & ABOUT - AARON VAN DELDEN

To a ca­sual ob­server we would ap­pear mad, I thought while pre­tend­ing to pole-vault, one of sev­eral Olympic sports that our group mimed that Satur­day morn­ing. No, we weren’t re­hears­ing a play nor bud­ding ath­letes, but we were pro­duc­ing a fine cho­rus of chor­tles, chuck­les and the odd snort.

Lead­ing us in this ses­sion of laugh­ter yoga was Louise Stevens, who had a sim­i­lar im­pres­sion when she first at­tended the Browns Bay Laugh­ter Club in 2008. ‘‘Even now I still think it’s a bit silly, re­ally.’’

Louise says peo­ple do walk out: they get part way through their first ses­sion and make a dash for the door. It can take months, she says, be­fore you feel com­fort­able tak­ing part in laugh­ter yoga.

But Louise be­lieves in the power of laugh­ter. Back in 2008 she was her el­derly mother’s full­time carer and that was tak­ing its toll on her.

She was stressed and needed to laugh, so a friend sug­gested she try laugh­ter yoga.

Two ses­sions in and the group’s then leader an­nounced she was giv­ing it away, but Louise saw some­thing in laugh­ter yoga that en­cour­aged her to com­bine with a few oth­ers at­tend­ing the Browns Bay club to keep it go­ing, train­ing to be­come a leader her­self. To­day she is one of five lead­ers at the club who co­or­di­nate the Satur­day ses­sions.

Reg­u­lar ses­sions of laugh­ter yoga are cur­rently held in Browns Bay, Glen­field, Massey, Pon­sonby and How­ick.

Laugh­ter yoga com­bines laugh­ter with move­ment and deep breath­ing. Im­por­tantly, the laugh­ter is vol­un­tary and not based on joke-telling.

As Louise ex­plains, a joke is of­ten made at some­one’s ex­pense or con­sid­ered of­fen­sive, so the ses­sions are based on laugh­ter for no rea­son.

That said, be­ing in a group of peo­ple who were act­ing out Olym- pic sports, book ti­tles and ways to re­lieve stress while pre­tend­ing to laugh did have me in stitches at times.

The ben­e­fits of laugh­ter yoga are wide-rang­ing – for ex­am­ple, there’s the sug­ges­tion that it strength­ens fa­cial mus­cles and re­duces wrin­kles – but, re­gard­less, there was some­thing in­vig­o­rat­ing about kick­ing off the week­end with a ses­sion of play­ful­ness and laugh­ter.

As the say­ing goes, laugh­ter is the best medicine. It pro­duces en­dor­phins, the feel-good hor­mones linked to phys­i­cal ex­er­cise, and re­duces the stress hor­mone, cor­ti­sol. That’s a good thing be­cause high lev­els of cor- ti­sol can weaken the im­mune sys­tem.

Louise says laugh­ter is like a form of first aid and she en­cour­ages peo­ple to utilise its ef­fects as they go about their daily lives.

It’s also true that as adults we laugh much less than we did as chil­dren, per­haps be­cause we con­nect laugh­ing with be­ing silly and child­ish, says Louise.

There’s also a lot of guilt as­so­ci­ated with laugh­ter, she says, par­tic­u­larly in times of grief.

But laugh­ter yoga can com­bat this. In the words of its founder, Dr Madan Kataria: ‘‘In laugh­ter yoga we don’t laugh be­cause we are happy, we are happy be­cause we laugh.’’

JASON DORDAY/ FAIR­FAX NZ

Don­ald Bran­ni­gan finds the funny bone at a laugh­ter club.

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