Next Sunday is not only Easter but also marks World Laughter Day. ALIX NORMAN finds out why a good giggle is exactly what we need right now
While those who haven’t already celebrated Easter will do so next Sunday (due to Catholic and Orthodox Easter being a full 28 days apart this year), the date also marks another global event. The first Sunday of the fifth month is always designated World Laughter Day. And boy do we need it, coming off the year we’ve had!
World Laughter Day began in Mumbai in 1998 – the brainchild of Dr Madan Kataria, founder of the worldwide Laughter Yoga movement – and quickly spread across the globe. By 2019, it was celebrated in most major cities, with groups of happy devotees (comedians, yoga clubs, laughter groups) gathering in public spaces for a jolly good giggle; there were even competitions for most infectious laugh, and cheery marches, during which participants danced, clapped and chanted ‘ha ha ha’!
Of course, since Covid, these public displays of laughter have been off the cards. But there’s no reason you can’t observe World Laughter Day at home – it may feel silly to stand in your living room ho-ho-ing like Father Christmas, but it’s probably just what you need right now. Because the whole reason behind World Laughter Day is to bring a little more healing and happiness into our lives.
Laughter is a well-known, scientifically documented panacea. In the short term, laughing actually induces changes in the body. It stimulates the organs, enhancing your intake of oxygen-rich air, and invigorating the heart, lungs and muscles. It also triggers the release of endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers – which can ease chronic pain. Laughter activates and relieves your stress response: increasing and then decreasing your heart rate and blood pressure, leaving you with a lovely, relaxed feeling. And it also soothes tension by stimulating circulation and aiding muscle relaxation, both of which reduce many of the physical symptoms of stress.
But laughter is more than just a quick pick-me-up. In the long-term, a healthy chuckle can boost your immune system – good news during a global pandemic! While negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions which cause any amount of chronic stress and decrease your immunity, the positive thoughts that come with laughter actually release neuropeptides that fight illness and pain.
And, at the same time, you’re heightening your personal satisfaction and increasing your ability to cope with difficult situations; burning calories and toning your abdominal muscles…. when you giggle and guffaw, the muscles in your tummy expand and contract, just as they do during a workout!
“Laughter is like a reset button for your soul,” says Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher Elina Papa, founder of the first Laughter Club in Cyprus. “It’s a fun and easy way to stay healthy.”
Elina advocates a good laugh for all sorts of issues, including pain, infection, muscle tension, enhancing the memory, energising the body, and unblocking suppressed negative emotions which may manifest as disease.
“Stress is the world’s Number 1 killer: it’s the root cause of most illnesses,” she says. “But Laughter Yoga helps unwind the negative effects of stress on the body and mind, breaking down physical, mental and emotional stress simultaneously. It’s a practice that can help you laugh through life’s challenges… Anything can happen anytime, so it’s important to have a strong positive mental attitude ready to deal with any negativity that may come your way.”
Elina offers Laughter Yoga classes and workshops but she also advocates a good laugh at home, even if it feels forced at first. “While a natural laugh only lasts for three or four second intervals and depends on a real condition that may or may not happen,” she explains, “in a Laughter Yoga session you don’t leave laughter to chance. You get real benefits through exercises that provide 10-15 minutes of continuous laughter which comes from the diaphragm, combining laughter exercises with yogic breathing (Pranayama).”
Today, on World Laughter Day, try taking a moment to laugh, and you’re bound to feel the benefits. “You don’t need a reason,” Elina concludes. “You don’t need to rely on sense of humour, jokes, or comedy. Just start laughing! It’s a scientifically-proven fact that the body cannot tell the difference between ‘fake’ and real laughter. You get the same benefits to your health, even from the first time you try it! The goal is to get your laughter back to its natural unconditional state, as it was as a child. And the more you practice, the easier it becomes… Laughter really is the best medicine!”
For more information on Laughter Yoga visit the Facebook page ‘JOY project’. Laughter Yoga classes will resume as soon as measures allow
TOP 3 LAUGH ALONE EXERCISES
Here are three laughter exercises you can try at home. Go for it. Nobody’s watching!
- Breathe & Laugh
Take a slow, deep inhale through the nose, raising arms to the sky as you inhale, exhaling slowly through the mouth as you lower your arms. Repeat three times.
Now, repeat the exercise, but with laughter! Inhale deeply through the nose, raising your arms to the sky, and exhale while lowering your arms and laughing out loud!
- Aloha laughter (Alo – ha ha ha)
Inhale deeply through the nose, then exhale while chanting ‘alooooooo…’, raising arms forward above your head, and wiggling your fingers. Then, just when you are about to run out air on the ‘oooo’ of aloha, drop your arms and laugh out loud with the sound ‘ha ha ha ha ha’!
- Silent Laughter
Imagine yourself in a situation where laughter is ‘not allowed’, for example, a serious work meeting or any other place where laughter would be frowned upon. Then start smiling, giggling, and laughing, exhaling ‘ha ha ha ha’ while laughing silently to yourself, trying your best not to laugh out loud. The more you can visualise the scene, the harder it will be to hold your laughter within!