By Dr. Sumer Aeed
We all agree that laughter really is medicine and science has long confirmed its benefit to our physiology and psychology. However, what makes us all laugh is such a unique recipe, and what may make one laugh may offend someone else. Also taking the time to watch a movie, go to a comedy club, or come up with funny jokes is not sustainable on a regular basis.
Although there are multiple origins of laughter used in healing the body, it is generally agreed that it was Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian family physician who in 1995 formally created Hasna or Laughter Yoga. He and his wife began small groups that came together to laugh.
The group of free laughter clubs that they created led to Hasna which today is a common practice among everything from the medical to the mental health to the corporate world, practiced in over 110 countries.
Drawing upon the well-researched idea that the human body cannot differentiate between real and fake laughter, Hasna makes use of getting to the benefits of laughter without the work of trying to identify what each person may find funny. Dr. Kataria asked group members to fake laugh for one minute and noticed the fake laughter turned into genuine laughter. Next after observing the similarity between laughter and pranayama yogic breathing, Kataria incorporated the two into warm-up exercises.
The word hasna comes from ancient Sanskrit and means laughter or humour. Humour is one of the nine rasas or moods and the regular practice of hasna is said to help lead to the exultation of the mind.
How does it work?
Hasna yoga is an intentional exercise combining movement and yogic breathing (pranayama) to create a physical laughter response in our bodies.
The great part is that no jokes or comedy is necessary for the experience. Laughter can be faked as mentioned above, and the human body and mind benefit equally from spontaneous natural laughter or the physical replication of laughter. Many Hasna yoga practitioners refer to this as laughter for no reason (other than the plethora of psychological and physiological benefits of course).
Laughter yoga may be structured in multiple ways. We can make use of all at once or use bits and pieces to enhance our lives or yoga practice. Techniques may involve movement, breathwork, gentle stretching, chanting, using fun or playful words, clapping, eye contact, and physical connection to others (hand clapping/handshaking).
Researched Benefits of Hasna Yoga
A regular Hasna yoga practice weekly has been shown to strengthen the immune system, increase serotonin levels, increase oxygen levels, reduce cortisol (stress hormone), increase the sense of social connection, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, relax muscles, improve sleep, and reduce emotional triggers.
Laughter is a powerful remedy for depression. With the increased endorphins, physical relaxation, and social connection, daily practice of Hasna yoga may be able to decrease people’s overall sadness.
The reduced inflammation and increase oxygen as well as the stretching of muscles and use of the voice and relaxing throat muscles and diaphragm all contribute to lower anxiety and increased relaxation overall.
Laughter is a critical factor in relationship building, and shared laughter can indicate to others that they share a similar worldview. Laughter also increases people’s willingness to open up which can help in mental health, corporate, or academic settings. Multiple researchers have shown that laughing together, even with strangers creates a sense of safety and social connection and feel-good chemicals that bond us to others. The fields of physiology and sociology have explored how laughter is a primal part of what it means to be a social animal (rats, chimps and bonobos laugh, too). Laughter is crucial to the health of our mind and body and social connections, Evolutionists believe it also aided in enabling our ancestors to form and connect to tribes.
Blood Pressure Management
Blood pressure decreases consistently or even once time laughter practice. Increased oxygen, reduced cortisol, and gentle movement all contribute to lowering blood pressure.
Managing Pain Through Laughing
Humor can increase tolerance to pain. Again as a result of the chemical cascade of positive chemicals triggered by Hasna Yoga pain and inflammation can be greatly reduced. In 1964, Dr. Fry, A Stanford researcher, published a series of studies on the physiology of laughter. Dr. Fry was the first official gelotologist (Scientist of laughter-from the Greek root gelos, to laugh). Dr. Fry studied blood samples before and after people watched comedy shows. His research showed how laughter can increase the efficacy of immune cells that kill infectious pathogens.
Ways to Practice Hasna Yoga
There are multiple ways to incorporate and practice Hasna Yoga, here are some simple ways to begin to explore the tools.
Start with warm-up exercises. Clap and chant ‘ho, ho, ho’ and ‘ha, ha, ha.’ This can help to break the ice. While clapping, use full finger-to-finger and palm-to-palm contact.
Enthusiastic clapping and repeating sounds like a chant stimulate the diaphragm and increase positive energy. When you are use laughter yoga in a group it involves moving around and making eye contact with others.
Laughter exercises can be combined with pranayama or deep breathing exercises, which help push air through the lungs and aid in physical and mental relaxation.
Stand up straight, lift your arms up above your head, gently hold your breath for five seconds, and exhale put quickly through the nose. You can exaggerate the move and bend forward at the waist, bringing your arms down quickly, then repeat.
Childlike practice here helps to increase the laughter and practice. You can say ‘hooray’ ‘yippee’ ‘very good’ and clap. Simultaneously swing arms upward and keep eye contact with others.
Greet others in the group with the many different types of laughter exercises described in the next section. These should be interspersed with deep breathing.
Laughter meditation can be undertaken in a seated position, with folded legs and eyes open. Maintain eye contact with others in the group. Place hands in front of the chest with palms outward. Push them forward and say ‘ho, ho, ho’ forcefully.
You can finish a session with yoga Nidra relaxation or some other relaxing visualization. Have participants lie down on their backs, their hands by their sides, palms up.
Using a mantra for stress exercise is a simple one. The mantras may be some combination or repetition of ha, hi, ho, hu. Regularly practicing this when you feel stressed, repeating the mantra sounds above slowly or repeatedly.
Practice big smiles for no reason. Our bodies respond to even fake smiles and respond with feel-good chemicals. We can also practice just smiling with our eyes. Have students stand in front of a mirror or look at each other and smile or eye smiling to cover their mouth and nose with their hands.
Laugh and walks involve asking the student to stand up, begin to laugh, and walk around the space. They can engage with each other and laugh when they meet eyes which increases the experience of laughter, laughter is contagious! We can also practice this solo, outside or around our house, walking and laughing out loud or using the mantras discussed above.
Using a pencil or chopstick in the mouth is a silly way good with students or already warmed up groups. Give students a pencil and ask them to put it in their mouth sideways for two minutes. Ask them to vocalize the sounds of ‘he he he he with the pencil or chopstick in their mouths. You can go on to add ho ho ho, hu hu hu hu, etc.
The Hawaiian greeting is a fun icebreaker to get started. Going around the group have students practice saying Aloha ha ha ha ha ha to themselves or with another person. We can add an exaggerated handshake to this for movement, shaking hands with someone high to low and making the greeting sound aloha ha ha ha ha ha, and having the partner respond in the same. They can go around the circle with this exercise as a group connector.
Mobile phone laughter involves having students pretend their mobile phone is ringing. Ask them to put it to their ear and laugh as if they are hearing a funny message. Have them walk around the room and continue to laugh as they pretend to talk on the phone.
Lion laughter is an adaptation of lion pose in yoga. Students breathe in deeply, then stick out their tongues, widen their eyes, and stretch their hands out like a lion’s claws and roar. They can do this solo or with a partner.
For electric shock laughter, you have students partner off. Ask the first partner to grab the hand of their partner, then pretend they have received an electric shock from the touch, laughing out loud, opening their mouth widely, then trade-off.
Other Applications of Hasna
Hasna Yoga in learning settings can be a powerful tool.
Children are very good at laughing and laugh much easier than adults, sometimes up to 300 times a day! It is very easy to do this practice with children and they are an audience who greatly benefits. Schools, mental health therapists, and group leaders have used Hasna with children with great success.
Laughing makes seniors feel more positive and helps fight isolation. Seniors often have many past happy memories that can help recall and replicate, elevating their moods and helping with social connection. You can use regular Hasna exercises (maybe chair based if needed) or old photographs of joyful events and see how they laugh and smile. This has been show to also keep memory active and slow down signs of dementia.
Mental Health groups can also greatly benefit from Hasna due to the multitude of psychological benefits. It can help with group cohesion and be used as a full class or for icebreakers, and breaks. It works for mental health patients of all ages and genders.
Parkinsons’s patients have been found to benefit from Hasna as well Laughter yoga is a powerful way to address some of the non-motor aspects of Parkinson’s such as depression, apathy, and social isolation. Applications with this group have shown more group connection and more body awareness for participants.
Corporate applications are also popular for Hasna. Reducing stress and creating group building/connection are the general goals here. This can be an ongoing application for groups or a one-time intervention to connect people as an ice breaker for training or as a stress reliever option to enhance productivity and creativity.
Creativity is a vast area that has shown great promise here. Deep breathing and laughter promote many of the brain chemicals that increase creativity and innovation as well as focus and reduction of stress that can limit creativity. Again this can be practice solo for a few minutes or can be part of a class or regular practice.
Hasna Yoga Certification
Sound like fun? There are multiple ways to get more training in being able to teach and use this technique.
Certified Laughter Yoga Leader Accreditation
This UK certification is a two-day training course with United Mind. The laughter yoga trainer provider, Lotte Mikkelsen, has trained under Dr. Madan Kataria.
The training is accredited by the Federation of Holistic Therapists and includes verbal and written assessments, tips for starting a laughter club, and a video assessment.
Laughter Yoga University
Laughter Yoga International provides worldwide teacher training courses. The course options vary from one to multiple days and are offered in person as well as via Zoom. This is conducted by Dr. Kataria, the founder of Hasna.
This group offers both online and in-person training to become a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader. They also offer free online laughter yoga sessions on Zoom for those who want to try more.
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