Laura Goodman

Laughter yoga and compassion

Laura Goodman

Q: What is laughter yoga?

Laughter yoga is a lot of fun. It’s a great experience, even if you just do it once. It’s about rediscovering your laughter. That’s my goal when people participate in a laughter yoga session – that they just get back in touch with the happy side, the funny side, that honest and peaceful part of themselves. And the idea in laughter yoga is that you don’t have to wait for an outside stimulus – you don’t have to see a movie or a comedy routine to laugh. You can create your own laughter. When people come in to a laughter yoga session, I’m laughing as they enter the room. And it’s infectious. And at first you see people trying to resist, and then people start to giggle, and I’ll explain what laughter yoga is and the next thing you know, everybody’s laughing. I explain that laughter is a social experience. It’s universal. No matter where you are in the world, if you start laughing, everyone who hears you knows what you’re doing. There’s no question as to what’s happening. I show people during the sessions that you can fake your laughter to stimulate yourself to create real laughter. It’s like a muscle. We try to get back in touch and redevelop that. And people find that it gets easier.

Q: What happens in a laughter yoga session?

Sessions can be 30 minutes to an hour. We play games. I explain to people the 4 components of laughter. One component is clapping. You’re using the acupressure points on your hands and it’s like giving your whole body a massage when you’re using those acupressure points on your hands. We focus on eye contact. We play a lot of silly games and they all involve making good eye contact because that’s part of the social experience. What we’re looking to reestablish is childlike playfulness because as children we laugh dozens of times a day. As adults, we only laugh maybe 10 or 15 times a day. You have to think – what happened? What happened is you were socialized. You learned from your family, from class and school, from friends and relatives that you laugh when it’s appropriate to laugh, how much laughter is enough, what kind of laughter is acceptable. So in laughter yoga we play a lot of games and practice a lot of laughing. Eventually we can work ourselves up to honest-to-goodness laughter. We also do a laughter meditation where instead of focusing on your breath or mantra people focus on their laughter. Then we do a relaxation where we laugh for several minutes. We’re lying down on the floor or we’re sitting in chairs. Then we go into a quiet relaxation. We relax every part of the body and focus on each part of the body progressively, using laughter. 

Q: How can people reap the benefits of laughter yoga without coming to a class?

If you can’t come to a class, you can always wake up in the morning and make yourself laugh. You can do it anywhere – just make yourself laugh. There is some laughter etiquette. There are some places that are not good places to laugh. In laughter yoga, I teach that we never laugh at anyone’s expense. We try not to have laughter yoga involve sarcasm. But you can just laugh. Pick a friend, get a partner, and say “you know what, let’s laugh together. Let’s see how many times we can make ourselves laugh.” You can go and sit at the Sunken Gardens and just gently start to laugh. And if you have a friend, the two of you can get together and decide to laugh before going to lunch for two minutes every day. Then notice how it makes you feel. Maybe when something funny does happen, carry the laughter a little longer and see how people react. You might notice that people think that’s a little awkward because they’re not used to it. But they’ll laugh. They’ll probably continue laughing. I would suggest that you try to rediscover your own laughter. Pay attention to it, be mindful of it. Be aware of when you stop laughing and question it.

Q: What are the benefits?

There are physical benefits. A really good, sincere belly laugh for several minutes relaxes every muscle in your body. Laughing helps boost your self-confidence. It’s been shown to lower your stress level. It’s a great stress reduction technique which reduces your blood pressure. It helps with anxiety, depression, and practicing eye contact during the sessions helps you feel more comfortable socially.

Q: How does self-compassion relate to laughter yoga?

Laughter yoga, because of how it makes you feel, helps you to not take yourself so seriously. If laughter has been re-established in your life so as to be more frequent, your attitude changes, because you don’t take yourself so seriously. But hopefully we can develop more compassion for others as well as ourselves.