Whether you prefer slapstick comedy or like your humor bone dry, we can all agree: Laughing feels good.
“I cannot start my day without laughter. I have to do it when I take a shower, when I brush my teeth, driving early in the morning when I go to work — it’s great,” says Tita Begashaw, a laughter coach who leads the Tee Hee Hee laughter yoga class at Harborview Medical Center.
Laughter yoga is an exercise that combines mindfulness, breathing and intentional laughter to promote well-being. It was originated by Dr. Madan Kataria, a family physician in Mumbai, India, in 1995 and has since spread to thousands of laughter clubs worldwide.
“Laughter is the best tool in our life. When you laugh it changes your brain chemistry and makes you relax, feel good and connect to other people in a positive way,” Begashaw says.
She also notes laughter is an aerobic workout for the heart and lungs and that it relieves stress, boosts your immune system, increases your oxygen intake, improves digestion, decreases anxiety and pain, and elevates mood.
“I think everybody has laughter inside them. We just need to remind them and laugh with them,” Begashaw says. Here’s how.
Try different types of laughter
You may want to laugh more, but what if things just aren’t funny?
Turns out, jokes are optional.
“When we grow up, we forget to laugh,” Begashaw says. “Laughter is a part of us. Children start laughing before they start talking. We don’t tell kids jokes; they just start laughing.”
There are more than 500 types of laughter in laughter yoga, Begashaw says. The idea is that intentional laughter provides the same health benefits as spontaneous laughter. In other words, regardless of if things are funny, making yourself laugh can help you feel better.
Some of Begashaw’s favorite types include “handshake laughter” in which you shake someone’s hand and laugh together and “waving laughter” where (you guessed it) you wave and laugh.
Make it mindful
Boost the benefits of laughter by practicing mindfulness and deep breathing while you laugh.
“Problems come and go. In the situation, try not to stress and be negative. Let it go and laugh — then we become free. That’s what this is. Just be moment by moment. Laughter is the beauty of the moment,” Begashaw says.
Focusing on laughter can help bring you out of your thoughts and into the present. To add deep breathing to your practice, try the “ho ho, ha ha” laugh. By alternating between the two sounds, you use your abdominal muscles to expel and exhale all your breath out before inhaling in again deeply.
Giggle in a group
Think of the last time you had a side-splitting, tears-in-your-eyes, try-not-to-pee-your-pants laugh. More than likely, you were with other people.
Laughing is contagious, and the more you can laugh with others, the more you can bolster everyone’s health, Begashaw says.
For more chuckles, snickers and guffaws, join a laughter yoga club or intentionally create time to laugh with others. Allow yourself to be silly, whether you’re watching a comedy special, remembering a funny moment or getting together with others with the purpose of laughing.
Build your laughter muscles (aka, practice)
If the idea of making yourself laugh sounds weird at first, you’re not alone. Especially if it’s been some time since you last laughed, it can feel difficult or foolish to start doing so. But given time, you’ll become more comfortable.
“It’s a muscle. The more you do it, the more it keeps coming back,” Begashaw says.
Life’s funny like that: The more you intentionally laugh, the more you’ll find yourself naturally laughing, too.