Bent double and in hysterics at a laughter yoga session

Thu, Aug 20, 2009, 01:00

Laughter is good for you but even faking a chuckle can have its benefits, as PAMELA DUNCANfound out during a laughter-yoga session

I DON’T know whether to laugh or cry. I am to take part in a laughter yoga class and am not exactly relishing the idea. A group of grown adults standing around pretending to chuckle – are you having a laugh?

A sign outside An Grianán, a beautiful estate just outside the village of Termonfeckin in Louth, informs me it’s a centre for lifelong learning. In my mind’s eye, it is full of hippies with names such as Echo and Chakra telling me to “feel the vibe, man”.

I couldn’t be more wrong. I am met by a group of older women who would look more at home in a bingo hall than a hippy commune. As it turns out, the class is for a group from the Irish Countrywomen’s Association and the oldest participant is 94.

Our “laughter leader” Aisling Coleman, a kind-faced woman blessed with a sense of humour, starts the session with a bit of background.

Laughter therapy was developed in India 13 years ago by Dr Madan Kataria. He noticed that those of his patients who had a cheery outlook on life were healthier, recovered from illness faster and were re-admitted less often than the other patients. His observations led him to develop laughter yoga as a “wellbeing workout”. According to its proponents, it helps alleviates pain, aids people with conditions such as arthritis and asthma, relieves stress and provides a cardiovascular workout.

The idea is that the body cannot distinguish between fake and real laughter; they both offer physiological and psychological benefits.

There is no need for jokes, Coleman explains. You just have to “fake it till you make it”.

So, after a few relaxation techniques, we are asked to fake a giant belly laugh.

Some background may be appropriate here. I am not a joiner. I am also embarrassed by silliness of any kind that directly involves me.

So I am somewhat uncomfortable at first given that, within 10 minutes, I am holding hands with a pensioner who is knocking her knees together while faking a chuckle. Another “laughter technique” has the group roaring like lions, tongues lolling.

But it works. Everywhere I turn, someone is creasing up with laughter. Within seconds of starting one exercise, the woman beside me is inconsolable. She is crying with laughter. She clings on to me as she attempts to gather herself for long enough to get through to the next exercise.

Watching somebody in such convulsions is all too much and I burst into genuine laughter. The hilarity is contagious and soon spreads to an 88-year-old woman sat nearby who nearly falls off her seat at the sight of us. My face begins to hurt.

Half an hour of ridiculous-looking exercises later we sit down for some meditation. We are asked to concentrate on our breathing, taking in happiness and expelling all frustrations.

“Now, do you feel better? Do you feel your head is lighter?” Coleman asks.

The answer from the group is a resounding yes. And I have to admit that I am in much better humour.

After the class, Coleman explains that this sense of wellbeing is one of the main benefits of the sessions.

She was going through personal difficulties when she first found out about laughter yoga. “I just knew I needed something. Something wasn’t right – everything wasn’t right,” she says.

Having read various articles on laughter yoga and the associated health benefits, she wanted to try it out for herself and did a weekend course through which she obtained her “laughology” certificate three years ago.

Since then, she has travelled all around the country bringing laughter yoga to people of all ages, from school goers through college students and residents in old people’s homes.

“I have never had a group who didn’t enjoy it by the end of the session. You will have people who feel a little bit silly but the funny thing is that they find themselves being drawn in because, if they’re not laughing ‘with’ they’re laughing ‘at’ . . . even if they think they’re laughing at us we’re getting through to them because they’re actually laughing.”

Coleman’s hopes for laughter yoga are simple.

“I didn’t want it to be airy fairy. I wanted it to be something fun that everyone could embrace. The things that we do are just fun, basic silliness and you can’t help but laugh.”

She believes in the long-term benefits of laughter yoga too, adding that it is about changing your outlook on life. “If you laugh more you end up laughing more – it’s contagious.

To arrange a laughter session, contact Aisling Coleman on 087-7438787 or