Ten years ago I went to India to train as a Laughter Yoga teacher with medical doctor Madan Kataria – laughter yoga’s founder. It was an inspiring and exciting week, and a good fit for me. I have always laughed easily- maybe a bit too easily. Uncontrollable giggles during concerts; funerals; weddings; lessons at school. So it was great to find a place for it.
However, laughter yoga can feel pretty weird. At its most simple, you make laughter sounds until you laugh. The list of health benefits is huge, so it’s well worth it. The social, personal and spiritual opening that it brings is perhaps less well-charted. Initially it can feel horribly fake, and bring self consciousness. As I have become more practiced at it I notice how it brings a new level of playfulness, spontaneity, freedom, silliness and deep spiritual opening and connection.
To begin with, I took my sessions and training to spiritual fairs, most notably the Tree Of Life in Birmingham. These were a medley of the wise to the more flaky/cranky. I’m not sure where laughter yoga slotted in. I remember going to one meeting about ‘raising the vibration’, feeling tingles of enlightenment but not truly understanding what this might mean – and on the other hand being surrounded by ‘spiritual’ paraphernalia, ‘photograph your aura’, gurus with exceedingly unlikely names and new disciplines such as ‘face reading’ which after a day of delivering laughter sessions would have me absolutely howling with laughter.
I always struggled with the prescriptive structure of conventional Laughter Yoga sessions, and adored Joe Hoare‘s approach (laughter satsangs!) for that reason. When lockdown hit, a lovely friend and laughter colleague of mine Suzy Harvey contacted to say that she’d started online sessions, been overrun with demand and could I start some too? It was just the push I needed. She helped me with the technical side as well as suggesting a good length of session and time of the day. I am immensely grateful to her, it was brilliant. However I was still finding the structure a little inhibiting. It didn’t allow for the spontaneity and improvisation I wanted to explore.
Over the last few weeks the sessions have developed beautifully. We start with centring and building awareness – just taking notice of the body and breath. Laughter yoga is all about the breathing – saturating the body with oxygen is how a plethora of health benefits arrive – and coming into a deep state of connection. Then we move into a gentle body warm up; approximately 5 minutes of free exploration and making laughter sounds. Almost everyone finds this a little daunting at first, although many class members have been there for a number of weeks now, and appear to have lost all self consciousness or confusion about the process. They simply do as they feel, or look to each other for inspiration. We then stop to breathe, reconnect, see how things are changing in the body, and then move into a loosely themed exercise, followed finally by the ‘laughter echo chamber!’ where whatever happens is echoed by others – in just the way that children copy one another in order to connect.
It has been an amazing journey. We are all growing in our ability to play. Everyone’s ‘inner child’ is invited during the session preamble, and I can feel my inner child taking life. Generally, children not only connect with ease, they are curious, loving, open, and effortlessly spontaneous. It feels incredible to dedicate a space to nurturing these qualities. Day by day I feel myself growing freer, lighter, more upbeat. Everything flooded with joy, silliness and light. My own children becoming my teachers. Raising the vibration.