Laughter Yoga

Weaving a Tapestry of Laughter and Joy around the Pillars of Your Life

Carrying Guru Ranjit’s words as inspiration, “Breathing and meditation are the two pillars of life that make the building solid,” I walked in to a local elementary school, excited to begin my first solo lesson of the fall as a certified meditation teacher. Representing Youth Meditation (the non-profit arm of Charlotte Meditation), I hoped to provide these children with tools they can use in order to build a solid life of clarity and peace. Instead, through my interactions with the first and second graders during my first week of classes I rediscovered another essential tool of my own – laughter and joy. By weaving these materials around my pillars of breathing and meditation, I infuse my entire life with a sense of safety, companionship and warmth.

In our Youth Meditation curriculum, we traditionally begin our eight-week sessions with laughter yoga, using the exercises to build an open environment where we can laugh and feel comfortable with each other, ready to have fun with the next eight weeks of practice. Laughter yoga has been around for thousands of years, beginning in India as a way to bring villages together – and yes, while there is something inherently awkward and uncomfortable about forcing foolishness with each other, the awkwardness almost immediately gives way into authentic laughter. By the close of a good laughter yoga session, I end up engaging completely, dropping reservations and finding delight in nothing but the joy of laughter with others. In my Youth Meditation classes, students who were initially reserved, nervous or withdrawn bloomed in front of my eyes as I gripped their hands and looked deeply into their eyes before breaking out in to a smile, chuckling with each other for no reason besides “it’s fun to laugh together.”

This experience with the children impacted me in a powerful way. As someone who has spent a large amount of time in a troubleshooting field, seeing errors and anomalies without even looking (four leaf clovers have always been an easy find!), I often struggled to see positives when a negative was present. Guru recommended the practice of intentional meditation so I practiced purposefully being aware of all things good, positive and right surrounding me instead of the things that weren’t. I was amazed at the immediate difference it made in my interior life and in the way that people related to me and felt in my company. So many wonderful things that were ALREADY present in my daily moments slipped outside my notice when I trained my attention on the failures of myself, the world and others for the sake of “continuous improvement.” I finally saw that the potential for laughter, joy and positive connections with others was present in every mindful moment.

I stand by Guru’s statement that breathing and meditation are the pillars of life – but my experience with my students reminded me that cultivating and maintaining laughter and joy is the next essential step.  If I weave laughter and joy around my pillars of breathing and meditation, I find myself surrounded by contentment and happiness. The positive is ALWAYS present, but I have to maintain openness within my mind and body in order to truly embrace it!

~Ashley Moye~

Laughter, the best meditative medicine

Want the potential mental and physical health benefits of meditation without the work of chasing away all those intrusive thoughts and feelings? Try laughing, a study suggests.

Laughter — the real kind, associated with genuine joy and mirth — sets off brain wave patterns quite similar to those generated when experienced meditators ply their mindfulness skills, a new study finds.

Researchers know that when hooked up to an electroencephalograph, which measures electrical activity among neurons in the brain, those practiced in the art of meditation are able to achieve a brain state of what is called gamma brain wave activity: In it, virtually all of the brain’s higher cortical regions begin to operate on a common frequency, somewhere in the 30- to 40-hertz bandwidth.

Unlike the dreamless sleep in which alpha brain waves sweep across the brain or the cacophony of alert mental activity associated with beta brain waves, gamma waves tend to be synchronous throughout the brain. It’s the brain wave pattern associated with cognitive “flow,” with being “in the zone,” with the highest state of cognitive processing.

And the gamma brain wave state is as pleasurable as it is powerful: The neurochemical dopamine, the fuel of the brain’s reward circuitry, flows freely when gamma waves prevail. That makes gamma, once experienced, a state we want to return to again and again.

The research was presented in San Diego this week by Dr. Lee Berk, a psychosomatic medicine specialist at Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine. Berk told the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s 2014 meeting that, for 31 university students whose scalps were rigged up with listening electrodes while they watched videos either distressing or comical, unfettered laughter was the thing that brought their brain waves most consistently into a mock-meditative state.

And fast too. “It took off like a rocket,” Berk said. After subjects were settled in front of a humor video they had pre-rated as really tickling their funny bone, the laughing out loud began. And in short order, cortical regions from front to back and ear to ear were humming on a single frequency: gamma.

The contrast was stark between that electrical brain state and that induced when subjects watched a one-minute video they found distressing. In those cases, Berk said, the brain’s electrical activity varied across regions, but it stayed on average at low frequencies.

“It was flat-linish,” Berk said, “a sort of shutting-down reaction.”

For the brain-wave-reading sessions, subjects were offered a range of comic and slapstick videos from sources such as YouTube and “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Much of the comedy was presented before an audience, heightening, for some, the sense of infectious hilarity. Dark or derogatory humor was not among the choices.

Among the distressing videos were snippets of horror stories. Among the most commonly cited as most distressing was the raw opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan,” in which the Allies’ landing in Normandy, where thousands of soldiers charged to their death, was depicted.

Meditation, with its well-established benefits, may not be for everyone, Berk said. But humor is certainly within reach for all of us, and in the interest of our health, he said, we should dose ourselves regularly.

“I’m serious about laughter,” Berk said in an interview. It’s medicine, he said. “We need to tune into it and reap the reward.”

UNC Charlotte’s laughter yoga workshop helps students relax

(reprinted from Charlotte Observer)

By Lisa Thornton

guru-ranjitRanjit Deora, a laughter yoga instructor, teaches students at UNC Charlotte ways to use laughter as a means to de-stress.

Ranjit Deora scanned each face in the circle of a dozen people in front of him, set his sights on one and then walked over to introduce himself.

“Hello. I’m Ranjit Deora.”

“Hi. I’m Holly Hauser.”

What happened next caught everyone off guard: a guttural, hearty, infectious, comical laugh from Deora so pleasant that it seemingly sucked any sadness, stress and anger out of the room.

It’s called laughter yoga: a form of yoga that uses voluntary laughter to relax and de-stress the mind and body.

UNC Charlotte’s Religious and Spiritual Life department invited Deora, who runs Charlotte Meditation off Providence Road, to the UNCC campus during finals week to help students ease tension with laughter so they could then focus before their exams.

Hauser was one of a dozen students who showed up for the session for a reprieve from studying.

“I have one paper, two exams and a vocal jury because I’m a music minor,” said Hauser, 20, whose major is psychology. “I’m stressed a little bit.”

Inside room 200 of the student union, though, muffled bursts of hearty laughter could be heard from behind the thick wooden door as students picked up the lessons Deora shared.

“The other yoga is physical fitness yoga, where you are serious. This is natural,” he said. “Relax. Have fun. Enjoy. Get out of the funk.”

There’s no humor in laughter yoga. It’s not a comedy session where jokes are told. People in the class simply look each other in the eyes and laugh.

According to Laughter Yoga International, the body can’t differentiate between real and fake laughter, so the benefits are the same: reduced blood pressure, lower levels of stress hormones and a host of other benefits.

More often than not, though, the forced laughter eventually turns genuine as the belly laughs become contagious.

“I faked it at first, but after awhile it came natural(ly),” said Laura Hendrick, 20, an earth science major and religious studies minor. Hendrick came to the session to momentarily forget about the two exams and three research papers she had to complete.

After 15 minutes of laughter, she already noticed a difference.

“I feel better,” she said.

Laughter yoga clubs began springing up in the mid-1990s, and today more than 6,000 clubs exist in 60 countries. Of those, 500 are in the United States.

Deora, who emigrated from India, quit his corporate job in 1992 to become a meditation teacher. In 2002, he started offering free laughter yoga sessions every other week in his Charlotte studio.

Studies show that the average child laughs between 300 and 400 times a day, but adults laugh only 15 times a day. It’s a part of being human that we need to reclaim, said Deora.

“Laughter is in each one of us, a god-given gift,” said Deora. “It dives down somewhere in our gut because of our circumstances of life – as a child, as an adult – so then we forget to laugh. But it is natural in each one of us.”

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at lisathornton@carolina.rr.com.

Reduce stress with Laughter Yoga

Reprinted from: Charlotte Observer

It turns out that snickers, giggles, grins and belly laughs might just be more productive sounds than “ohm” when practicing yoga.

Usually yoga is a quiet practice of peaceful stretching that’s supposed to make you feel great.

But imagine yoga with a hysterical and healthy twist. Laughter Yoga at the Charlotte Meditation Center at 725 Providence Road, Suite 300, has been the main focus of Guru Ranjit Deora for years. The yogi focuses his classes and workshops on deep, belly-driven laughter and offers free classes every other Saturday as a community service.

“Hasya (humor) was an ancient way of entertaining evil in India. But laughter yoga wasn’t developed until 1995, by Dr. Madan Kataria, a family doctor from Bombay,” said Deora.

Kataria was so impressed by the findings of Norman Cousins, who successfully used laughter therapy to heal himself from a degenerative disease, that he and his wife, a yoga teacher, combined laughter exercises with yoga breathing exercises. The result was the first laughing club, comprised of five participants in a public park.

Today, according to Deora, there are an estimated 10,000 laughing clubs – including yoga clubs – in 60 countries worldwide.

“Laughter Yoga is a global movement for health, happiness and world peace,” said the guru. “This unique and innovative technique blends ancient yoga practices with the science of laughter to teach people ways and means of joyful living. It brings hearty laughter back into your life and you’ll learn simple and fun group exercises to help you ‘fake it’ until the real deal kicks in.”

Laughter Yoga sessions start with gentle warm-up techniques which include stretching, chanting, ho ho ha ha ha, clapping and body movement. These help break down inhibitions and develop feelings of “childlike playfulness.”

Breathing exercises are used to prepare the lungs for laughter, followed by a series of “laughter exercises” that combine acting and visualization techniques with playfulness. These exercises, when combined with the strong social dynamics of group behavior, lead to prolonged and hearty unconditional laughter. Laughter exercises are interspersed with breathing exercises. Twenty minutes of laughter is sufficient to develop full physiological benefits.

A Laughter Yoga session may finish with Laughter Meditation. This is a session of unstructured laughter where participants sit or lie down and allow natural laughter to flow from within like a fountain. This is a powerful experience that often leads to a healthy emotional catharsis and also a feeling of release and joyfulness that can last for days. This can be followed by guided relaxation exercises.

Tina Krona of Rea Woods tried the class recently with her sister-in-laws visiting from Cleveland, and said the class was just what the trio needed.

“Who doesn’t feel better after laughter?” she said. “I felt light afterwards and relaxed. You feel like a child all over again.”

Krona said that yoga is incorporated into the classes but said the emotional bonding with the group ages 20 to 65-plus was not something that she had expected.

“People really felt at first self-conscious but it’s just not natural to belly laughing for no apparent reason,” she said. “It’s really an adventure and kind of weird at the same time. It takes a little while to get in to the laughing for no apparent reason but Guru Ranjit is so good at it, it’s contagious. By the end of the class we had maybe 12 or 14 people hugging and laughing and it was a real bonding experience.

“Actually talking about it makes me want to attend class soon. You feel so relieved and happy. It’s worth a try for anyone.”

Deora said that Laughter Yoga has physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits, and is a medicine-free technique for stress relief, improved communication skills, team building, and increased productivity. He said introducing “newbies” to a regular yoga practice this way may also help with weight loss and building muscle.

In addition to Laughter Yoga, the Charlotte Meditation Center offers mindful mediation classes, life and wellness coaching and corporate wellness programs.

Deora is a meditation master teacher, Laughter Yoga instructor, a holistic thinker and a life coach who says he enjoys helping people connect with their true selves and find happiness within.

Conroy: 704-358-5353; Twitter: @ConroyKathleen

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2013/03/08/3901589/reduce-stress-with-laughter-yoga.html