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Monday, March 26, 2007

Laughter Yoga

Laughter yoga, the therapy which promises every health benefit from a strong heart to a slim waistline, is not necessarily something to tickle everyone's funny bone. However, its proponents say nearly everyone can benefit from having a good regular chuckle, and hope it will spread throughout the country, from the boardroom to the hospital ward. It took a while for the self-confessed cynic, and "scientific brain", to relax among a group of 25 all learning to laugh as therapy from laughing doctor, Dr. Madan Kataria.

There is a vast body of scientific evidence to show regular laughter has health benefits - it relaxes the muscles, eases stress, invigorates the heart rate and improves the immune system. What is interesting is that people seem to gain the same benefits whether they were genuinely laughing or just faking it."If you are faking laughing, the breathing and physical exertion is using exactly the same muscles," he says.

Laughter yoga combines laughter with yogic breathing exercises to provide one-hour workout sessions that include 30 minutes of laughter.

Mr Robertson says the main aspect laughter yoga shares with traditional forms of yoga is the focus on the breath - laughter makes people breathe more deeply, which has a raft of benefits in itself. "As a psychologist, that's the first I would get people to do," Mr Robertson says. "Get people to breathe more deeply, get more oxygen to the brain, help them relax."

Laughter yoga advocates say it exercises the heart, diaphragm, abdominal, intercostal, respiratory and facial muscles, with 20 minutes providing a workout equivalent to 10 minutes on an exercise bike. Among other things, it strengthens facial muscles and reduces wrinkles, leaving people looking younger, improves cardiovascular health, reduces blood pressure, boosts body's oxygen and energy levels, as well as immune cells that attack cancer, infection and viruses. It releases endorphins, a natural pain killer, stimulates the lymphatic system and boosts the immune system, and reduces levels of stress poisons 50 per cent or more in minutes.

Laughter yoga began with a group of five in Bombay, in 1995, and has now spread to 5000 clubs in 53 countries. Dr Madan Kataria, an Indian medical doctor dubbed the Guru of Giggling, started the groups with his wife after becoming interested in the health benefits of laughing.

Speaking from South Africa, Dr Kataria said when he started, very few people laughed in the big sprawling city. Life was "very stressful" in Mumbai, he said."We started out by telling jokes, but after about 10 days, we ran out of jokes," he said. "So we said, let's laugh without jokes." Now, 12 years later, Dr Kataria says he doesn't remember the last time he had a cold - NZPA.