Try It Tuesday: Is Laughter Yoga the Best Medicine?

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We all know the saying “fake it till you make it” and this is the concept behind laughter yoga, the newest and perhaps most unique form of relaxation out there. In a session of laughter yoga a group of yogis gather around to laugh at each other through some interesting  (aka weird) exercises in order to make you feel happy. No matter what the exercise, you have to force yourself to laugh (though the exercises should make you laugh themselves) in order for your body to perceive that you are calm and elated. Laughter yoga operates on the theory that fake laughter brings all of the beneficial effects of real laughter. According to the Laughter Yoga University (which I am sure is more accredited than Trump University):

“The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.”

So what are the physiological and psychological benefits of laughter yoga? Scientists can agree on 5:

  1. Good mood- Laughter releases endorphins that help the brain to calm down and become more relaxed
  2. Healthy exercise beats stress- Laughter yoga does encompass some of the hallmark stretches and breathing exercises as seen in regular yoga which means that it is in fact exercise
  3. Health benefits- Research has shown that yoga reduces stress and strengthens the immune system
  4. Quality of life- Laughter is a positive energy and will help you attract positive people in improve your life
  5. Positive attitude in difficult times- Laughter helps to create a positive state of mind to deal with negative situations

Well those all sound good to me, so I decided to try it out for myself. I decided to watch a laughter yoga video (there weren’t any classes in my area) and stumbled upon this gem on YouTube which you all can watch for yourselves.  The video depicts a training session held by Robert Rivest who is a certified laughter yoga instructor.

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One of the exercises in Rivest’s video. Pointing you finger at your hand is one of the funniest things in the world in the context of laughter yoga.

The Video

The video itself lasts for about 22 minutes and details numerous exercises that are included in a laughter yoga session. The video begins with some standard yoga breathing exercises and then becomes something you have to see to believe. Though the video is punctuated with more breathing exercises, that is the only similarity to actual yoga. Instead of downward dog, there’s rowing laughter in which you sit in a boat and pretend to row. Instead of child’s pose, you actually act like a child playing on a merry-go-round. Here are some of the best, most absurd, exercises:

  • Peek-a-boo laughter in which you laugh behind your hands and then play peek-a-boo with a fellow yogi
  • Cowboy laughter in which you laugh while spinning a pretend lasso and jumping up and down
  • Credit card bill laughter when you laugh while reading all the money you wasted on Starbucks
  • Hot soup laughter in which you spill hot soup on yourself but laugh about it instead of seeking medical attention
  • Finger tickle laughter which involves tickling other people’s fingers to get them to laugh
  • Hot sand laughter where you pretend that you are walking on hot sand and that your third degree burns are funny
  • Bumble bee laughter which involves you buzzing around like a bumble bee while laughing and looking for your next victim to sting
  • Volcano laughter where the group gets together to form one giant volcano but instead of spewing lava spews laughter

Throughout all of these exercises in order to get the group back to baseline Rivest make them chant “very good, very good, yay!” while clapping. There are literally no avenues in which you cannot be or feel happy in this program.

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Rivest’s laughter yoga is ‘mmm mmm good.

Did it Work?

I was actually very surprised at how calm and relaxed I felt after completing the exercises. While laughter yoga focuses on utilizing fake laughter, I found myself genuinely laughing at how ridiculous every exercise was, but hey that’s the name of the game. It still makes me laugh just writing about it, which is a good sign.

When I first began watching the video and performing the yoga I had a mild headache which disappeared after a few minutes of laughter. By the end of all of the different laughs, I felt very peaceful which seems antithetical given that I had just forced myself to laugh and be hyper for the past twenty minutes.

The biggest surprise was that the end results felt a lot like actual yoga. You would think that meditative yoga would lead to different thoughts and feelings than laughing and acting ridiculous, but I found the two to be quite similar. Laughter yoga left me feeling just as relaxed as traditional yoga poses but without the shame of being inflexible.

On a side note, the yoga, in addition to its relaxing effect, made me feel a little sleepy. I would have hypothesized that the exercises would provide more energy due to all the laughter but it seems as if the relaxing effects were more prominent. It reminds me of how sleepy I get when watching late night comedy shows (team Coco all the way). Is there a deeper reason for the existence of late night?

Will it Work For Me?

If you take laughter yoga seriously (an oxymoron I know) then yes, you should feel the same results. Even if you go into it thinking that the exercises are flat out absurd you should still find yourself laughing along due to this absurdity. It is also true that laughter is contagious so if you practice laughter yoga in person with others you are sure to feed off of their energy and feel happiness without even trying. When Rivest asked the participants in the video how the yoga made them feel here are there responses:

  • “glorious”
  • “victorious”
  • “full of love”
  • “relaxing”
  • “very happy”
  • “open”
  • “peaceful”

I am sure that if you give laughter yoga a chance then you will feel some of these emotions as well.

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Rivest’s rowing laughter exercise. They’re gonna need a bigger boat.

What Does the Research Say?

Because laughter yoga is a relatively new practice, there have only been a handful of studies investigating the health benefits. One study out of Bangalore India found that participants of laughter yoga had a significant drop in heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol (a stress hormone). They also found that positive emotions increased by 17% and negative emotions decreased by 27%. A study conducted in the United States also saw that self efficacy (the ability to organize and carry out actions) increased in participants of laughter yoga.

Final Thoughts

Laughter yoga may seem ridiculous, but it was designed to be this way. I am sure we can all attest to feeling better after a good chuckle, so why not try to recreate this feeling for a longer period of time? Trying out laughter yoga surely will not hurt you, but it can leave you with some good stories, and laughs, to tell your friends.

Beer Yoga is Here to Help Heal Your Ale-ments

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Move over goat yoga, there’s a new sheriff in town: and he enjoys a pale ale.

It seems that the new trend in meditation is combining things that make us happy with yoga. Now beer yoga is the perfect illustration of this: who doesn’t love a nice cold pint?

That was the inspiration behind the aptly named BierYoga based in Berlin Germany. Founded in 2015 by yoga instructors Emily and Jhula, the classes integrate beer bottles into normal yoga poses in order to create an even more enjoyable experience.

“BeerYoga is fun but it’s no joke” states the BierYoga website. “We take the philosophies of yoga and pair it with the pleasure of beer-drinking to reach your highest level of consciousness.”

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While it might seem to be a bit of a stretch, the idea of combining beer and yoga does make sense from a psychological view point. Yoga is meant to be a relaxing process, to help one disassociate from the anxieties of daily life. Beer, as a form of alcohol, is a depressant for the brain. Depressants inhibit the GABA neurotransmitter creating a calming effect, thus promoting relaxation. How many times have you hit the bar for happy hour after work and felt de-stressed after your third or fourth or tenth (no judgement here) beer?

The owners of BierYoga also note the similarities between drinking beer and taking yoga classes: “Both are centuries-old therapies for body, mind and soul. The joy of drinking beer and the mindfulness of yoga compliment each other, and make for an energizing experience.”

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While some yoga classes in the United States have been performed in breweries (sadly only allowing students to imbibe after the class), none have actually integrated bottles of beer into the yoga poses. Photos on the BierYoga website depict yogis balancing beer on their heads, taking a sip while doing a downward dog, and most importantly  laughing and having a good time.  The bottle aren’t just for show or used as weights either: one participant noted drinking three bottles during the two hour class. The instructor even commands the posers to take swigs. “Has anyone not finished their first bottle? If not, bottoms up!” she says about half an hour into the class according to one satisfied reviewer.

Jhula and Emily have begun to expand their business, most recently sponsoring events in Sydney and Melbourne, and hoping to eventually break into the festival market.  Owner Jhula even conceived the idea for BierYoga after witnessing similar yoga being performed at California’s Burning Man festival. She is hoping to return to the legendary desert ritual, beer in tow.

Beer yoga coming to the United States? We can all cheers to that.

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The New Trend in Meditation? Goat Yoga

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We’ve all heard of dogs having therapeutic properties, but goats?

That’s the basis of Lainey Morse’s new business: goat yoga classes. And if you’re wondering who would want to practice yoga in a barn with goats, the answer is thousands. That’s right, her classes at her No Regrets Farm in Oregon has a wait list of over 1,200 people as of yesterday.

“Goats are perfect for the yoga practice because it’s not only combining nature and animals, it’s combining yoga, and they all go together so well,” explained Morse. “The most fun part for me is watching people’s faces when a little goat comes up to them while they’re doing a yoga pose. It’s a distraction, but it’s a happy distraction.”

Morse formulated the idea of her yoga practice after hosting a child’s birthday party on her farm. A mother who taught yoga attending the party informed Morse that having a yoga class on her farm would be a popular attraction.

“I said okay, but the goat have to join in,” quipped Morse.

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Morse knew that the goats would provide therapeutic support to the yogis due to her own personal experiences. After she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder a year and a half ago, she turned to her pet goats for help.

“I would come home every day and spend time with my goats, and it was so therapeutic for me,” she says. “It’s hard to be sad and depressed when there’s baby goats jumping on you.”

Her own experiences with her goats would quickly translate into others receiving joy and relief from her eight goats. Morse welcomes visitors from far away cities like Seattle and Portland who are lucky enough to ensure a spot in her highly sought after classes.

“It may sound silly, but goat yoga is really helping people,” Morse says. “It’s not curing diseases, but it’s helping people cope with whatever they’re going through. People come in that have anxiety, depression; they’re recovering from cancer or illness.”

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Morse continues on, explaining how she uses her goats in animal assisted therapy for people that suffer from disabilities and depression.  One participant, Cherie Twohy, concurs with this sentiment explaining: “I’ve had a rough couple of years, and this put a smile on my face that I can’t remember feeling in a while.”

While unconventional, Morse and her students can’t deny the power that these baby goats have in helping with the anxiety, a phenomenon that people commonly seek yoga out to combat. With pupils coming in from states far away to get a piece of the action, this is one trend that is not dying out anytime soon.

“I can’t believe ‘Portlandia’ hasn’t called me yet,” Morse remarked.

It’s just a matter of time before we see Fred Armisen practicing the downward dog surrounded by these cuddly little goats.