They say laughter is the best medicine and for ‘laughter yoga’ enthusiasts this certainly is the case.
Practised in 76 countries at approximately 10,000 centres worldwide, laughter yoga was the invention of Dr Madan Kataria in 1995.
While sessions can vary, deep breathing, natural movement and vocalising laughter (‘ho ho ha ha’, for example) are at the essence of the practice.
Typically conducted in groups of up to 30 people, eye contact with fellow attendees is also crucial.
“It helps people adopt a more positive attitude to life,” said Julie Whitehead, who has practised laughter yoga for 14 years.
Now based in Hampshire, Julie ran sessions in Clapham Common for four years and has worked with hundreds of people from businessmen and care home residents to schoolchildren.
“Stress is very detrimental to our lives and laughter is an antidote,” she said.
Julie said she rarely gets ill, which she attributes to her laughter yoga.
“It has amazing health benefits – people feel relaxed, happier and calmer,” she said.
Scientific research also reveals the health benefits of laughter.
The immune system can be boosted by up to 40% by laughing, according to researchers from Indiana State University.
Laughter has also been linked to pain management.
A study conducted by researchers from the UK, USA and the Netherlands showed that a person’s pain threshold is much higher after they have been laughing.
And Julie insists that laughter yoga isn’t just for those with funny bones.
“You don’t need a sense of humour,” she said.
“So long as you have the intention to laugh you receive the same psychological benefits as if you were laughing naturally.”
Learning to laugh for no reason is at the heart of laughter yoga.
“Laughter is readily available to you if you choose to laugh,” said Julie.
Last week Julie visited Great Ormond Street Hospital for a laughter yoga session with 40 theatre staff members.
“If you start your day being positive it will change the way you feel,” she said.
See www.laughteryoga.co.uk and rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/279/1731/1161 for more information