How to Do Laugh Yoga
Yoga can stretch you out, strengthen your body, and soothe your mind––but science says that adding in some silliness may make your practice even more powerful.
There’s a flavor of yoga for nearly anyone, whether you want to get your sweat on with a Bikram-style class, hold poses for a healthier gut, or take your asanas airborne with fly yoga. And while conventionally, most yoga styles focus on stillness and silence, it turns out giggling your way through your down-dogs can ignite your practice in new ways thanks to a new take on the ancient tradition: Laugh yoga.
What is laugh yoga?
Formally called hasyayoga, laugh yoga is exactly what it sounds like. It involves the basic principles of a yoga session like organized movement, chanting, and breathing exercises (AKA pranayama) but incorporates laughing exercises throughout, explains Randi Sprintis, MS, a yoga instructor who works with Choosing Therapy.
From stress relief to immune system support, research has proven that regular laughter promotes a range of mental and physical health benefits. But instead of searching for something funny in our daily lives, laughter yoga encourages us to create humor, says Steven Sultanoff, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Pepperdine University who has studied laughter and humor for 35 years. Laugh yoga was first developed by Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian physician, based on the belief that voluntary laughter can have similar psychological and physiological effects as spontaneous laughter.
“So the laugh yoga movement is about emulating laughter without [the stimulus of something humorous],” Dr. Sultonoff explains. “When you’re in a group of people and stimulate laughter, at first, it’s all fake.” But one thing that encourages humor is the perception of absurdity and silliness—and quite quickly, the initially forced laughter becomes genuinely funny, he says.
What are the benefits of laugh yoga?
Thanks to its focus on breathwork and movement, “laugh yoga aims to pump more oxygen into the body and reduce stress, helping participants to feel energized, joyful, and relaxed” almost immediately, Sprintis says. But the long-term physical, psychological, and psychosocial outcomes of a regular laughing yoga practice are no joke.
A massive review of 3,210 studies published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that laugh yoga improves metrics like blood pressure, stress resilience, sleep quality, life satisfaction, mood, and overall quality of life—with no adverse effects recorded whatsoever. Other studies show that laugh yoga:
- Improves blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes
- Enhances working memory
- Boosts your metabolism
- Helps fight burnout
And because of laughter’s well-documented power to suppress and control our body’s cortisol levels, laugh yoga—and giggling more often in general—is associated with a stronger immune system and lower risk of chronic disease, including chronic mental illnesses. “Studies show that laughter therapy, which is strongly connected to laughter yoga, can positively impact your mental health and reduce depression and anxiety,” Sprintis says.
How do I do laugh yoga?
“Laugh yoga sessions are very playful,” Sprintis says. “You typically begin with some mild stretches and warm-ups, then an instructor will lead you through a series of postures, breathwork, chanting, eye contact with partners, and laughing techniques.” Remember, even though this laughter is deliberate at first, allow the natural giggles to build—and they’ll start flowing. After all, science has shown that laughter really is contagious.
Still, while laugh yoga is often done in a group setting, you can do it on your own, too. “Many people prefer to do laugh yoga alone because you can let your inhibitions fade and engage in some real silliness and big laughs without judgment.” She offers a few tips to structure your at-home laugh yoga practice:
Always be mindful of your breath. “A key component of laugh yoga is the breathwork and keeping the oxygen pumping through your brain and body,” Sprintis says. “So try to incorporate breathing exercises sporadically throughout your laughter yoga practice.”
Start with some simple warm-up exercises, such as “the Aloha Laugh.” She says to stand with your feet about hip-width apart, raise your arms and smile and say “Alooo,” and release your arms down as you say “haaaaa.” Complete five to eight rounds of this warm-up to get your blood flowing.
Don’t hesitate to use a mirror. “Seeing yourself being silly could help turn those voluntary chuckles into real laughter,” she says.
Close out your laughter yoga sessions with a grounding activity. Laugh yoga founder Dr. Kataria recommends rounding out the session with a grounding dance. His method involves bouncing around in a circle while pushing the hands away from the chest and saying, “ha, ha, ha, ha,” then pushing the hands down and saying, “ho, ho, ho, ho.” “This grounding ritual brings the mind and body back into a balanced state,” Sprintis explains.
How long should I do laugh yoga?
Instructor-led laugh yoga classes are often structured similarly to other types of yoga, so you can expect to have about a 60-minute practice depending on the studio. If you’re on your own, “you want to try it for at least 10 to 15 minutes daily to experience the benefits,” Sprintis says. “There is no such thing as ‘too much’ laughter yoga,” she says, so get giggling to your heart’s content.
Another tip? “Try laugh yoga anywhere, anytime,” she recommends. You don’t need to be in your home or a studio, but can benefit from some mindful laughter whenever you need a pick-me-up––like while sitting in traffic or doing chores around the house. “For instance, a quick Lion Laughter session—when you pretend to be a lion laughing—can boost your mood and help you feel energized, and you don’t need to be in a yoga class to do it.”
Randi Sprintis, MS, a yoga instructor who works with Choosing Therapy
Steven Sultanoff, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Pepperdine University who has studied laughter and humor for 35 years
Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice: "A systematic review of the effect of laughter yoga on physical function and psychosocial outcomes in older adults"
Frontiers in Endocrinology: "Laughter yoga as an enjoyable therapeutic approach for glycemic control in individuals with type 2 diabetes: A randomized controlled trial"
European Journal of Humour Research: "The effect of laughter yoga on working memory: A pilot study"
Baltic Journal of Sport and Health Sciences: "Psychophysiological Responses to Laughter Yoga in Women: Two Studies on the Visual and Practice Effects of this New Physical Activity"
Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice: "The effect of laughter yoga on perceived stress, burnout, and life satisfaction in nurses during the pandemic: A randomized controlled trial"
The Journal of Neuroscience: "Positive Emotions Preferentially Engage an Auditory–Motor "Mirror" System"