Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Core Qualities of Yoga, Part 7: Enlighten Up With Laughter

This post is part of a series that explores a variety of core qualities and suggested practices to consider for inclusion in your classes and private sessions (whether on a mat, in a chair, or a combination of both).

by Beth Gibbs

“The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one's work seriously and taking one's self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.” - Margot Fonteyn

As yoga teachers, we take our work seriously, but we are also students. As students, we need to take the second part of Fonteyn’s quote to heart. Bringing in the quality of lightness will lead to enhanced awareness and understanding of our life experiences. Our ability to observe our experiences without judgment helps us avoid taking ourselves too seriously. One way to do that is to add laughter to our yoga practice and to our daily lives.

Laughter is being able to see the humor in life's absurdities. And with global warming and political storming, we have all the absurdities we can handle at the moment. 

Laughter, according to the Mayo Clinic, can enhance:
  • Intake of oxygen-rich air
  • Circulation
  • Muscle relaxation
  • The flow of endorphins
  • Your ability to manage stress

These are also benefits of yoga!

When laughter comes easily, it brings lightness into the body-mind when it is experiencing a difficulty, illness, or imbalance. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, laughter, or humor therapy, helps promote overall health and wellness. Laughter therapy modalities use the physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stress, distress, or discomfort. Surgeons used humor to distract patients from pain as early as the 13th century. In the 20th century, scientists studied the effect of humor on physical wellness.

Many credit this modern use of laughter as a wellness tool to Norman Cousins. Remember him? He was a political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate who suffered from ankylosing spondylitis, a painful connective tissue disease. In addition to medical treatments, he added laughing, long, loud, and often to his healing regimen. He found that ten minutes of hearty laughter would reduce his pain and help him sleep.

The best part of incorporating liberal doses of laughter in your life and your yoga practice is that laughing doesn’t cost a dime and it is calorie free! As matter of fact, research published in the International Journal of Obesity found just 15 minutes of laughter a day will burn 10-40 calories, depending on a person's weight and the intensity of the laughter. That is enough to lose between one to four pounds a year!

Here’s a quote from Gordon Allport, psychologist and educator that points to laughter as a life enhancing quality, “So many tangles in life are ultimately hopeless that we have no appropriate sword other than laughter.”

Personally, I make it a point to laugh every day. It always makes me feel better no matter what absurdity might be present or looming – and there is always something! I’ve even created and performed stand-up comedy in a couple of local venues––it’s terrifying and gratifying at the same time, and when the audience laughs, it feels as good as Savasana! I also try to infuse my writing with a bit of humor when I can. You can find a sample of my humorous take on perfectionism here:

Ways to Include Laughter in Your Yoga Practice

1. Try a laughter yoga class if laughter doesn’t come easily to you. Laughter Yoga was created in India in the mid-1990s. It promotes the ideal of a non-political, non-religious, non-racial, non-threatening, and non-competitive approach to laughter. Its core premise is that your body is able to and knows how to laugh, regardless of what your mind has to say. Because it follows a body-mind approach to laughter, participants do not need to have a sense of humor, know jokes, or even be happy. The invitation is to “laugh for no reason.“

2. Try Yoga Dance. Broad smiles and laughter have been an integral part of every yoga dance class I’ve taken over the years. Megha Nancy Buttenheim, the founding director of Let Your Yoga Dance at The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, says, “The mission of Let Your Yoga Dance is to spread joy and consciousness throughout the world by transmitting body health, brain health, heart health, and soul health to all populations.”

It’s a practice that combines, yoga, dance, and music. Everyone can participate, because ‘chair dancing’ is a real thing. Megha has been teaching yoga dance to people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. “Some of them say, ‘Let Your Yoga Dance is like a drug for Parkinson’s, but the only side effect is joy!”

3. Google yoga humor and share some jokes with your students. Here are two samples:

“Is it OK for a yogi to use email? Sure, as long as there are no attachments.” --Author unknown

“Corpse Pose is the hardest pose to master. You only get it right once.” --Author unknown

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras do not mention the power of laughter per se, but this quote by Swami Satchidananda referencing Sutra 1:36 does.

“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?” ― Swami Satchidananda

V. S. Ramachandran, in A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness reminds us that, “Laughter is nature’s okay signal.” So, as yogis, lets ‘enlighten up,’ and enjoy a laugh or two on our path through life.

Elizabeth (Beth) Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is a guest faculty member of the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. Her masters’ degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health is from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children. For more information please visit her website at:

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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