What if there was a simple way to reduce stress and lose calories? It’s easy – just laugh.Laughter yoga is a form of yoga using self-triggered laughter and breathing activities to exercise and relieve mental stress. And now it has spread to Beirut.
“Based on breathing and laughter exercises anyone can laugh without relying on humor, jokes or comedy,” explains Sabine Jizi, the first certified laughter yoga instructor in Lebanon who began leading weekly sessions in Beirut this September. “Basically we trigger the laughter, we fake it until it becomes contagious and people start laughing for real.”
Founded in 1995 by Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria, laughter yoga has evolved into a global movement with over 6,000 “laughter clubs” in 65 countries. Now 66 countries including Lebanon, Jizi points out.
Jizi founded Lebanon’s first laughter club after gaining her certification in a course run by Kataria in Germany earlier this year. She now leads classes Sundays at the Comedy Club in Monnot for a growing community of participants.
“It is growing day by day,” she says, expressing surprise at popularity of her classes thus far in Lebanon. “It’s really challenging to make Lebanese people laugh. We are so uptight and we always think about what the other person is going to say about us – so you have a bunch of people in a group, laughing for no reason and looking ridiculous, it’s not easy.”
Jizi now has at least 15 people attending her classes every Sunday and has also conducted workshops at AUB for more than 50 people, as well as private company events.
The benefits of laughter yoga may have something to do with its growing appeal. Like yoga, laughter yoga’s deep breathing exercises help with stress reduction – the difference is that laughter yoga does not require the same physical exertion or training in postures as yoga. People can start participating and enjoying the benefits sooner.
“When we laugh we feel so free of stress. And laughter boosts a hormone called endorphins, which is the feel good hormone. After class we feel happy and positive and very light,” says Jizi who adds that laughter itself can be a cardio workout.
Indeed research into laughter in the U.S. and Europe has revealed that the activity has direct health benefits – from reducing blood pressure and heart rate, to dilating blood vessels, improving circulation. A 2005 study conducted by Vanderbilt University in the U.S. also demonstrated that 10-15 minutes of laughter can burn up to 50 calories.
Of course, most of us don’t often experience 15 minutes of solid laughing. This is where laughter yoga comes in as an exercise routine. As Jizi says, “A chuckle won’t do it. You have to laugh from the heart and the belly.”
To get the laughter rolling, each one-hour session consists of different exercises which Jizi describes as “basically, silly.” Starting with deep breathing exercises, the class moves into exercises similar to playing. “We act like children,” she says. These exercises are followed by laughter meditation, during which the participants relax, breath and let go. “Everybody lies down and laughter flows – they start really laughing.”
With its main popularity base in Europe and the U.S., Jizi hopes to see laughter yoga spread in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East as a coping mechanism for stress.
“Lebanese people are probably the ones who need to laugh most. We forget to laugh – so many political, religious and social problems, we need to laugh.”
By Alex Taylor
Copyright © 2019, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.