I grab a piece of imaginary dental floss and carefully insert it into one of my ears. I pull it out the other ear and floss the negative thoughts out of my head as I walk around the room. Laughing maniacally.
I am not alone. And we are not in a mental asylum. I’m in a Laughter Yoga class getting in touch with my playful inner child. The name Laughter Yoga is a bit of a misnomer because, aside from some yogic breathing (pranayama), there is little actual yoga involved.
The laughter coach takes the class through a series of playful exercises that begin with fake laughter and frequently end in the real deal. At first it is pretty awkward — Warrior Pose will seem like a breeze after you’ve chanted your way through the Ho-Ho-Ha-Ha dance — but once you’ve got over your insecurities, you might even find yourself giggling uncontrollably.
The exact exercises differ from one class to the next, but the principle is the same: fake it until you make it. Conceived in 1995 by Dr Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, Laughter Yoga is based largely on the principle that your body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter, and thus the physiological and psychological benefits are the same.
Sound like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo? Perhaps, but there is science to back this up. Researchers in the field of gelotology, which studies the effect of laughter and humour on the body, have found that in addition to making you feel good, laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, can relieve physical pain, may reduce the risk of heart disease, and bolster the immune system.
Since Dr Kataria, known as the ‘Guru of Giggling’, launched his first Laughter Yoga class in a public park over two decades ago, the practice has spread to more than 60 countries. Laughter Yoga is now practiced in schools, hospitals, old-age homes, and companies around the world. There are also free social clubs that anyone can join for a good old giggle.
Get giggling in the Mother City
In Cape Town, you’ll find regular events at the end of each month at the Kagyu Buddhist Centre for World Peace and Health in Kenilworth. The 60-minute sessions, which involve laughter exercises, deep breathing, laughter mediation and guided relaxation, are followed by tea. Although social laughter clubs are free, there is a small (R20) fee to cover the use of venue.
There are also a number of other social laughter clubs run by laughter coaches around Cape Town. You can find their details here.