There’s no downward dog in this yoga class. Instead, there’s deep breathing, fake fights, and lots and lots of giggles.
Laughter yoga starts with a staged scenario — like getting mad at the person sitting next to you or plunging down a roller coaster — and then devolves into a cackling cacophony. The activity has found its way into hospitals, nursing homes, and support groups for cancer and dialysis patients.
It’s been claimed that laughter yoga can improve immune function and decrease blood pressure, but there isn’t any robust evidence to back that up. It’s been difficult for scientists to study laughter because it’s a highly social activity. Benefits could be from either physically engaging our muscles, or it could be from socializing with others, or it could be from both.
And while many of the claims about laughter yoga are overhyped, observational studies have shown that laughter exercise programs can encourage physical activity and improve well-being among the elderly. It’s also been tied to lower stress levels in children who are hospitalized.
It’s also a relatively simple activity — there aren’t any major side effects or risks, and in most places, it’s free.
I visited a laughter yoga class at Massachusetts General Hospital to try it out for myself — and to find out whether forced laughter in group settings does anything other than cause me social anxiety.