There’s nothing funny about yoga, except for the fact that, if you look at yourself in the mirror while your body twists like a giant pretzel you’d nibble on at a baseball game, you do look kind of funny. Well, actually, you look a little like you’re in pain. But sometimes, that pain actually triggers a bit of nervous laughter — which is why, when I heard about laughter yoga classes, I knew I had to give it a try and see what this unique fitness trend is really all about.
The first thing I wondered about laughter yoga was whether I would have to do traditional yoga poses; I hoped the answer was no. When I go to yoga classes, I usually just default to the savasana pose the entire time, which is typically the last pose you do in a class: the one where you lie on your back with your eyes closed. I spend the majority of the class just doing that, because I can barely touch my knees, let alone my own toes.
So really, there’s nothing funny about laying on your back while everyone else flings their extremities around in complicated positions that just make me marvel with full-on envy. Would laughter yoga be a class where the teacher simply calls out all the weird names of yoga poses, and everyone just giggles at full-speed? Happy baby? Embryo? Bound lotus? What? Who named these poses?
Everyone says yoga is good for you, that yoga helps with stress, anxiety, and of course, flexibility. Everyone tells me to just give yoga another try, and once I do, and I still don’t like it, they say give it a try again. So, when I found myself signing up for a laughter yoga class, I desperately hoped it would live up to its name and change my mind about yoga altogether.
According to Dr. Kataria’s official website, Laughter Yoga University, the practice “combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing,” or “pranayama,” and is based on “the scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter.”
And yes, there actually is some science to the practice. A 2015 study demonstrated the health benefits of laughter therapy for older people, and the results of a 2012 study suggest the practice can be good for both your moods and your heart. Sounds pretty legit, right?
When I arrived at my first laughter yoga class, taught through Laughter Yoga Salon in New York City, I didn’t know what to expect. I went because it had the word “laughter” in it. I figured — actually, I hoped — a stand-up comedian would be present, telling his best comedy set. I hoped that, at the very least, a clown would be there, being all clown-like. But it wasn’t like that at all.
The teacher, Francine, didn’t look like a typical yogi, but rather like someone with a gregarious personality and a kind face that made me instantly want to be her friend.
The class began, and Francine instructed us to free ourselves from being embarrassed or scared. She wanted us to laugh, about anything, or nothing, but just laugh.
What followed next was a series of improv-like games. Francine had us dancing to music, which at first made me feel shy, but within 30 seconds of the first song, I was acting like I was on stage at a bar mitzvah as one of the DJ’s back-up dancers. We all found ourselves laughing naturally, mostly out of feeling weird about what we were doing. But then the laughter flowed, and as I looked around the room at everyone else being silly with me, I just couldn’t control my giggles.
Throughout the class, we moved different body parts, but not in formal yoga poses. There was one moment when we had our hands up in the sky, stretched high, and we were told to chant certain words and phrases as a group. For some reason, I found myself laughing uncontrollably, as if someone was tickling me underneath my armpits.
I laughed so hard that I actually peed a little in my black yoga pants.
Nobody saw, but if they did, they would have had the biggest laugh of their lifetime, and I might have had to run out of there in sheer and utter embarrassment.
I left the laughter yoga class feeling surprisingly exhausted. Laughing took a lotout of me and my core, which would probably be a hell of a lot stronger if I went back to the class more often.
I wouldn’t quite call this practice yoga, because there’s no downward dog or warrior II poses to flow through. I’d call it laughter therapy, where you find yourself laughing ’til you cry (or pee), in the comfort of complete strangers, who are all looking for one thing: to kick off some stress and just be happy, for that one hour, and hopefully for the rest of the week.
Which, I’ll admit, I was. I really was.