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