(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.