Can You Laugh Your Way to Better Health?

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The claim: Laughter yoga can improve your health.

Also, known as Hasyayoga-from the word hasya, meaning laughter in Sanskrit-laughter yoga has nothing to do with traditional yoga positions. Rather, the sessions involve various stretching and warm-up activities, including clapping, chanting in a “ho, ho, ho” manner (a technique with fast inhalations and exhalations), and other yoga breathing exercises, followed by all sorts of simulated laughing-such as laughing silently with an open mouth, laughing while humming, or laughing heartily. Laughing maybe done standing up, sitting, or lying down. To decrease inhibitions, classes encourage a sense of playfulness and may use visualization and other techniques similar to those done in acting classes. You may be told to laugh while imagining you’re riding a roller coaster, for example. You might feel silly at first, but this usually dissipates as the session proceeds.

Laughter yoga has become popular over the last 20 or so years, thanks to Madan Kataria, an Indian physician known as the “Laughing Guru” or “Guru of Giggling,” who first promoted it in a public park in Mumbai. He has a website (LaughterYoga.org), and his book Laugh for No Reason was published in 1999. Many other books on the subject have followed.

There are laughter yoga clubs all over the world, and participation is generally free. You can also find classes at medical or community centers and yoga studios. It’s even possible to join laughter yoga groups on the phone.

What the evidence says: A few preliminary studies suggest that laughter yoga may provide some health benefits, though the studies are small and have design problems. For instance, a study in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research in 2014, which included 38 male nursing students, found that those who did eight one-hour sessions of laughter yoga over four weeks had improvements in anxiety, depression, and sleep compared to a no intervention control group.

The bottom line: Larger and better studies are needed to confirm such effects, but in the meantime, there’s no downside adding more laughter to your life.