by Jamie Ducharme | October 1, 2013 7:35 am
Picture the last time you meditated—maybe it was guided, maybe it was at the end of a yoga class, but either way, it was probably quiet, peaceful, and internal.
Now imagine a meditation class where the instructor asks you to roll around on the floor, laughing hysterically at nothing, and then laugh (again, hysterically) as you give your neighbor a head massage. This is the world of laughter meditation.
Started in the 1990s by an Indian physician and focused on the childlike mentality of laughing at anything and everything, laughter meditation and yoga ask participants to laugh nearly non-stop as a way to release stress and tension and promote mental health. Exercises range from the benign—chanting “hee, hee, ho”—to the downright bizzare, like staring straight into another participant’s eyes and pretending to honk their nose while cracking up. Classes and workshops are now offered in several places around Boston, including Massachusetts General Hospital and Northeastern University.
Let’s Laugh Today is a laughter yoga company (yes, laughter yoga is a thing) run by Walpole couple Bill and Linda Hamaker, who say laughter really is the best medicine. “It’s making you healthier, helping your immune system,” Bill says. “Psychologically it makes you feel better, physically it’s an aerobic workout. It helps with anxiety and depression, and it’s got spiritual benefits too, because you get to be in the moment. People get this hour where they learn that they can release that stress, and they get a new tool that they can use during their life to break up the stress.”
“We have a pharmacy in our head,” Linda adds. “We can use endorphins and seratonin and all the happiness chemicals ourselves by getting in touch with our childlike playfulness. It gets you to a place of pure bliss and feeling good, because you are moving around and you are releasing dopamine and hormones from your brain by laughing and oxygenating your body.”
The couple explains that a typical laughter yoga class hardly resembles what people associate with yoga. Instead of traditional yoga poses, the hour is mainly made up of laughter-causing exercises like those described above, aerobic exercises, chanting, and yoga breathing. During the class, laughter is sustained for 20 minutes—and Linda says it’s genuine. “We all have mirror neurons in our brains, and we see somebody laughing and then we just follow suit, just like when someone yawns and you yawn,” she explains. “Nothing is funny; no jokes, comedy, or humor. It’s just like acting like a little kid, basically.”
And while Linda admits that the practice can sound “wacky,” she stands by its effectiveness, saying it’s improved everything from her mental health to her immune system to her cholesterol. “When you’re laughing, you can’t be thinking about anything else or being worried,” she says. “The way the brain works. If you’re laughing, you’re in the moment, and you’re sharing that moment with everyone else in the group. Just try to think of something that’s stressing you out and then laugh—it doesn’t work.”
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