The word “Yoga” arises from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’ which means to get hold of, integrate and harmonize. It means getting hold of our lives, integrating all aspects of life, harmonizing our bodies with our minds, spirits and society. There are many paths of Yoga. For example Hatha Yoga is concerned with balancing the energies through body postures or Asanas, Karma Yoga deals with actions of selfless service, kindness, and generosity (Mother Theresa was a famous Karma Yogi), Bhakti Yoga is Yoga of devotion, etc.
The primary reason Dr. Kataria named this technique “Laughter Yoga” was because he incorporated Pranayama, the ancient science of yogic breathing into laughter exercises. This has a powerful and immediate effect on our physiology and has been used for more than four thousand years to influence the body, mind and emotions. According to yogic philosophy, we are alive because the cosmic energy from the universe flows into our body through our breath which is the Life Energy Force or “Prana”. The very essence of our life is breathing. Due to stress and negative emotions, our breathing becomes irregular and shallow, thus affecting the flow of Prana through our body.
From a medical point of view, the most important component of breath is oxygen. Dr. Otto Warburg, President, Institute of Cell Physiology and Nobel Prize Winner (Dr. Warburg is the only person ever to win the Nobel Prize for Medicine twice and be nominated for a third), said about the importance of oxygen:
“Deep breathing techniques increase oxygen to the cells and are the most important factors in living a disease-free and energetic life. When cells get enough oxygen, cancer will not and cannot occur.”
Breathing Connection With Laughter
More Oxygen From Exhalation: The main characteristic of yogic breathing (Pranayama) is that exhalation be longer than inhalation, thus ridding the lungs of residual air which is then replaced by fresh air containing a higher level of oxygen. A normal inhalation fills just 25% (tidal volume) of our total lung capacity. The remaining 75% (residual volume) remains filled with old stale air. Respiration becomes even shallower when compounded by stress. To keep our lungs healthy and provide enough oxygen for our bodies to perform at peak levels we need to take deeper breaths and flush the stale air from our lungs.
The secret to breathing deeper is to exhale longer than inhalation so that we can get rid of residual air in the lungs which has more carbon dioxide. In yogic breathing techniques people are taught to exhale longer by contracting the abdominal muscles which is not easy. Imagine what could be the easiest way to exhale longer? Just laugh. Laughter is the fastest and easiest method of exhaling longer and flushing our lungs. Therefore, deep breathing is not about inhalation; it is all about exhalation.
Training Your Diaphragm: Most laughter and yogic breathing exercises are intended to stimulate the movement of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles that help activate the parasympathetic system, which is the calming branch of the autonomic nervous system. This is opposite to the sympathetic system which is the stress arousal system. The stress arousal sympathetic system can be turned off simply by learning to move the diaphragm.
Two third of our breathing takes place from the movement of diaphragm and rest one third from intercostal and other chest muscles. Due to stress we stop using the diaphragm and our breathing becomes shallow and restricted to chest muscles. This leads to accumulation of carbon dioxide which can stimulate stress arousal system. Laughter Yoga focuses on training your diaphragm for breathing and laughing by using belly muscles. This is very much in accordance with yoga principles.
How Laughter Yoga Connects People
Since meaning of yoga is to connect through unconditional laughter, the group members connect with each other quickly no matter which country or culture they belong to, what language they speak or how they live. Laughter Yoga promotes a strong union between those who laugh together resulting in family-like bond, providing social interaction and networking which is essential for happiness. The goal of Laughter Yoga is to connect people with one another at heart level without judgment and that is the true meaning of Yoga.