Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seriously, Laughter Yoga is Good For You

Is laughter really the best medicine? Of course not. Watching your nightly dose of Conan O'Brian will not cure you of anything. But the cliche certainly has some merit. Medical experts have always praised the general benefits of laughter.
The Mayo Clinic website, for one, sings the praises of laughter. Among other things, they tell us that laughter:
  • increases your oxygen level, stimulating organs like your lungs and your heart.
  • increases the release of endorphins from the brain
  • Stimulates better blood circulation, relieving tension
  • Fosters relaxation
  • Can increase a person's overall sense of well-being
That's not a bad starter list. If they are right, then laughter is something that we should seek out--even practice! And that is the idea behind a brand new trend in the exercise world, especially among seniors. It is called "Laughter Yoga."
So what is Laughter Yoga? I confess that I didn't think it was real when I heard about it. It sounds like the most awkward combination of activities imaginable. But in laughter yoga, there is really very little yoga in the traditional sense. No funny poses. No tight spandex. And definitely no serenity.
What are you left with? Laughing. Lots of laughing.
Here is how it works. An instructor comes in and has the group circle up. She begins to lead them in imaginary scenarios like opening up a credit card bill. The bill is so high, she starts to laugh. it starts out as a chuckle. But it builds. And before long, she is doubled over in hysteria.
The participants are supposed to join in and open their credit card bills as well. It's awkward at first, but they are encouraged to go ahead and force it. So they do. It's painful to watch, but everyone is doing it. Everyone feels ridiculous. But somehow, after thirty seconds, they are all laughing for real.
Does it sound embarrassing? If this news report is any indication, it absolutely is!. But if laughter really is good for you, why not makelaughter happen? If it helps you unwind and feel good about life, it might be worth the humiliation.
Not surprisingly, laughter yoga has not gone mainstream. Right now, it might be most popular in assisted living homes. Seniors who might not be healthy enough to go for a jog are still more than capable of having a big belly laugh. And who knows? In a few years, it might be among the most popular elderly activities at the seniors center.
Jay Landry blogs about family issues and elderly activities. He has vowed never to participate in Laughter Yoga.

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