Laughing Yoga: ROFL for Better Health

November 6, 2013

We all have the ability to speak the universal language of laughter, but we sometimes keep it reserved.

One group in Buckingham County is working to bring it out to better themselves and others.

"Life can be very tough, so why not live it laughing?" said laughing yoga participant Sam Desai. "Why cry?"

Laughing yoga is a form of yoga where people practice laughing for no reason whatsoever. It's an ancient practice gaining ground around the world, and it starts at Yogaville in Buckingham County.

"When we're laughing, we really feel more of ourselves," said Bharata Wingham, a so-called "laughter ambassador" and laughing yoga instructor.

He recently organized a session at Yogaville for people training to be certified laughing yoga leaders.

"With laughing yoga, you don't have to wait," Wingham said. "You can just start laughing at any time you want."

The catch is that the laughing yoga exercises sometimes make participants look absolutely ridiculous, but that's also the point. What starts out forced quickly turns natural.

"When you get into the 'fake it 'til you make it,' that fake laughter turns into real laughter, and everybody starts to laugh," Desai said. "It's not fake anymore. It becomes real."

"We feel safe when we laugh with each other, so it's a way to connect on a social level, and it's also a personal yoga because it takes us to connect with what I say is our true nature," Wingham said.

The exercises are simple, ranging from acting like monkeys to speaking in a nonsensical language.

"Children don't have to work hard at being funny," Wingham said. "They just kind of have that natural knack, natural ability to say funny things, do funny things. But as we grow, we go through a socialization process, and that process kind of takes that out of us."

So as people grow, they have their own reasons for wanting to spread the laughter.

Nina McKee just began working at a women's shelter in Charlottesville and wants to spread the gift.

"My energy has been high, and it's fun seeing everybody else enjoying it and seeing different laughter skills," McKee said.

Desai is a psychotherapist from Lynchburg who works with children.

"I'm a very serious person normally, so I also wanted to do it for me to bring out my childlike playfullness and influence others to do the same," she said.

And Samuel Ticha is from Washington, DC, and often leads seminars for different clients.

"It's like in a classroom when one student makes a noise, and then the whole class makes noise. It's contagious," Ticha said. "You can't help but laugh."

Laughing yoga has physical benefits, too. Ten or 15 minutes of hearty laughter releases endorphins into your blood that boost your mood, calm you down and help you feel confident.

"When we take in more oxygen, we can think clearer," Wingham said. "Helps clear the mind."

And it helps bring people together. It's something contagious that isn't bad to spread.

"Laughter is an amazing, amazing gift that we all have," Desai said. "We all have it within us, and we forget to manifest it."

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