Americans Take To Laughter, As Crisis Deepens

by VR Sreeraman on  December 18, 2008 at 11:31 AM Lifestyle News
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With the US economy slumping, the going has got very tough, but the tough are no longer shopping.

They're laughing.
 Americans Take To Laughter, As Crisis Deepens
Americans Take To Laughter, As Crisis Deepens

Not just any old laughter, but laughter yoga, a form of exercise that blends bold belly laughs and noisy "meditation" with rhythmic clapping, waddling around like a penguin or taking part in a conga line, and deep, yogic breathing.

"Life is hard, the economy is bad, there are problems meeting the budget for homes, and laughter is such an easy thing. It comes naturally," laughter yoga instructor Nira Berry as she led around 60 people, including cancer patients, in an hour-long session of ha-ha yoga at a hospital in this Washington suburb.

A quick warm-up of jiving to Kool and the Gang's "Celebrate" and it was straight into the serious business of laughing, as the group followed Berry's lead and pronounced a determined ho-ho, followed by a rapid ha-ha-ha.

"Laughter yoga is a unique exercise that combines laughter with yogic breathing. When we laugh we exhale, and we automatically take a deep inhale afterwards, which is where the yogic breathing comes in," Berry said.

To take part in a laughter yoga class, you need neither a sense of humor, nor a pill, a drink or the ability to bend your legs into difficult yoga postures.

The only prerequisite is the ability to laugh, but getting people to laugh on command is difficult.

So Berry tells her students to fake it.

"Even if you fake it, your body is doing all kinds of wonderful things inside and you start changing your mood and getting healthier. And at the end people are really laughing," she said.

Begun 15 years ago in India by Madan Kataria, laughter yoga is popular in Europe and another 30 countries around the world but is only just catching on in the United States.

"In the US, people are very focussed on what the doctor says, and the doctor doesn't always give us the other options, besides taking medicine, for healing," said Berry, who used laughter yoga herself to ease the pain and stress of chemotherapy when she had breast cancer eight years ago.

"But nowadays many more people are interested in it because people are becoming more aware of other methods of healing - exercise, vitamins, and this too."

The grim economic news that has been giving Americans little to laugh about of late has also fanned interest in laughter yoga.

"I do see a big increase in people wanting to do it," said Berry, who conducts many of her classes for free.

But getting people to waddle around a room full of strangers and act like a penguin while ho-ho-hoing would be nigh on impossible, if the health benefits of laughter had not been proven by science.

A study by University of Maryland researchers, reported by AFP in 2006, showed that watching a comedy film boosts the flow of blood to the heart while watching a sad film makes the flow decline.

And an experiment conducted in Japan showed that diabetics' blood glucose levels dropped after they chuckled their way through a stand-up comedy show.

Other benefits of a good giggle are, according to Berry, that it boosts the immune system, reduces stress, boosts endorphin levels, improves mental clarity and gives a great aerobic workout.

Ten minutes of sustained laughter will give you the equivalent workout of half an hour on a stationary bicycle, she said, after 60 people had lain on the floor and reclined in the auditorium chairs to "meditate" amid a cacophony of laughter.

"Laughter is an important thing in the world today. There's not enough of it," said cancer survivor Sally Young.

Ute, a self-described German "Hausfrau" who was drawn to the laughter yoga class by curiosity, said afterwards that she felt "relaxed and free."

"It worked," she told AFP, but only after she'd managed to stop laughing.

Source: AFP

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