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Laughter yoga (Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. Laughter yoga is done in groups, with eye contact and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter.
In the mid-1990s, laughter yoga was practiced in the early mornings in open parks, primarily by groups of older people. Laughter yoga was made popular as an exercise routine developed by Indian physician Madan Kataria, who writes about the practice in his 2002 book Laugh For No Reason.
The yoga is performed without any humorous reason to laugh, with one practitioner observing that "The mind does not know that we’re faking it." Laughter Yoga brings more oxygen to the body and brain by incorporating yogic breathing which results in deep diaphragmatic breathing. In most cases fake laughter quickly leads to real and contagious laughter. Laughter yoga bypasses the intellectual systems that normally act as a brake on natural laughter.
Laughter yoga sessions may start with gentle warm-up techniques which include stretching, chanting, clapping, eye contact and body movement, to help break down inhibitions and encourage a sense of playfulness. Breathing exercises are used to prepare the lungs for laughter, followed by a series of ‘laughter exercises’ that combine the method of acting and visualization techniques with playfulness. Laughter exercises are interspersed with breathing exercises. Twenty minutes of laughter is sufficient to develop full physiological benefits.
A laughter yoga session may finish with "Laughter Meditation", a session of unstructured laughter whereby participants sit or lie down and allow natural laughter to flow from within "like a fountain".
A handful of small-scale scientific studies have indicated that Laughter Yoga may potentially have some medically beneficial effects, including benefits to cardiovascular health and mood. Benefits to mood in depressed patients have been found to be as good as exercise therapy. A study by Oxford University found that pain thresholds become "significantly higher" after laughter, compared to the control condition, and saw this as being due to laughter itself, rather than the mood of the subject. The study suggested that Laughter produced an "endorphin-mediated opiate effect" which could "play a crucial role in social bonding".
- Kataria, Madan (2002), Laugh For No Reason (2 ed.), Mumbai, India: Madhuri International, ISBN 978-81-87529-01-9
- Wilson, Mary (23 June 2016). "Finding focus, relaxation and improved health through Laughter Yoga". ABC News 10. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
- Bokur, Debra. "What's So Funny? ''Yoga Journal''". Yogajournal.com. Retrieved 2013-08-02.
- "Effect of laughter yoga on mood and heart rate variability in patients awaiting organ transplantation: a pilot study". Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. 2013-03-25. Retrieved 2013-08-02.
- Laughter Yoga versus group exercise program in elderly depressed women: a randomized controlled trial. PubMed.gov, 26 March 2011
- Social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold | Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences
- Birklbauer, Walter (2011), Why Laughter Yoga or The Guitar Method: A Neurologic View, ISBN 3-8423-6907-7