A group of people gather in a leafy park. There’s nothing funny, but they slowly start to laugh, hands on stomachs to feel the gentle, rhythmic rise and fall.
The laughter becomes louder, brighter, bolder – a cartoon “HA HA HA”. After a while, it begins to dissolve into genuine laughter, flowing freely, unstoppably. The group laughs together, huddled in a circle, until it’s time for a deep breathing break. Everyone is flushed, blissful, eyes glittering.
In a serious world, a bit of playful release can make all the difference. Laughter yoga is designed to give you that break, combining deliberate laughter and breathing exercises from the yoga tradition to soothe stress, brighten moods and create a lively, social energy.
Laughter can be revitalising. It can loosen the grip of sadness and tension, even if it’s just for a moment. As American physician and philosopher William James once said, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy. We’re happy because we laugh.”
The first laughter yoga club was held by family physician Dr Madan Kataria, in a park in Mumbai in 1995. Today, Dr Kataria heads Laughter Yoga International, a global movement with thousands of social laughter clubs in over 100 countries.
Laugh, and the world laughs with you
Scientists have long been intrigued by how laughter works – why we do it, why it makes us feel so good, and how it impacts our minds and bodies. There’s a lot we still don’t know, but there is some evidence to suggest that shimmering, happy feeling it gives us is real, and could improve our wellbeing in more ways than one.
When you laugh, you draw others into that playful, effervescent space. Laughter can be a powerful way to create social bonds, collapsing barriers between people. A 2015 study at University College London showed that people who had a good laugh together shared significantly more intimate information with one another – a key element of strengthening relationships.
This social effect is something laughter yoga therapist Mahes Karuppiah-Quillen, President of Laughter Clubs Victoria, sees every day in her work.
“Laughter is the shortest distance between people – we laugh with them, not at them,” Mahes says. “It’s universal, without any language or cultural barriers.
“The bonding qualities of laughter allow us to feel emotional closeness to people. It is something deeper than just biology. It is a part of the mystery of laughter that we have yet to solve, but most of us have experienced.”
"When you laugh, you draw others into that playful, effervescent space. Laughter can be a powerful way to create social bonds, collapsing barriers between people."
The real magic of laughter though, may be that it just plain feels good. It’s a pleasurable feeling that brings a childlike sense of play and joy to your life, giving you vital distraction from all your worries, and helping you get into a more positive headspace.
“When you start looking at life with starry eyed amazement and amusement, you start and end the day on a happy note,” Mahes says. “Regular doses of laughter and play also take the work out of staying in love with life, while enjoying the journey all the way.”
Mahes is one of the few laughter therapists to have been personally trained in India by Dr Kataria. Here, she shares some more on the philosophy of laughter, what to expect from a laughter club session, and how to get into the laughing spirit.
Listen now: As a CEO, Ramesh has implemented a laughter club in his workplace. Find out more about his story.