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Laughing for the health of it

By: Laurel Myers - Sudbury Northern Life Staff

 | Oct 27, 2010 - 3:47 PM |
Talma Macgregor participated in a laughter yoga class led by Sari Huhtala Oct. 5. Photo by Jenny Jelen

Talma Macgregor participated in a laughter yoga class led by Sari Huhtala Oct. 5. Photo by Jenny Jelen

Contrary to popular belief, one does not need a sense of humor to laugh.

That is the concept behind laughter yoga.

Sari Huhtala, a certified laughter yoga instructor in the Greater Sudbury area, explained laughter yoga is a combination of breathing techniques, meditation, and unconditional laughter.

“It’s really not about jokes,” she said. “It’s about encouraging people to laugh without any external stimulus. That means your ability to laugh without relying on something funny happening or something basically out of your control.”

According to laughteryoga.org, the concept of laughter yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter — one gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.

Sari Huhtala

Sari Huhtala

Huhtala said it’s a simple concept that everybody has within themselves.

“I start out introducing the concept that you can create laughter just like that, because it’s very foreign to people. I have them take a deep breath in and exhale with laughter, and they realize ‘Wow, that was easy.’”

Huhtala learned the practice five years ago, under its creator, Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from India. “He introduced laughter yoga in the mid-1990s, recognizing that laughter has a whole slew of health benefits for individuals,” Huhtala explained.

Physiological benefits include increased levels of serotonin levels — “that feel good hormone” — and the release of natural endorphins, “which is almost like a natural pain killer,” she said. It also relaxes the body, and massages a person’s internal organs. “If you have asthma or anything, a bout of laughter is a wonderful way to loosen things up,” Huhtala added.

Cardiovascular wise, a one-minute bout of laughter is equivalent to being on a rowing machine for 10 minutes, and it also lowers blood pressure and stress levels.

“All those things are conducive to better health,” Huhtala said.

While laughter yoga can assist people in achieving an improved state of well-being, Huhtala said her intent is to show people they “have the capacity to choose how you’re going to respond to life’s circumstances.”

However, people don’t need to participate in a laughter yoga session to get all the benefits. “It is something you can do on your own, in the morning or midday if you’re feeling drained. Even a 30-second bout of laughter makes a difference.

“Stand in front of mirror, draw your arms up overhead and take a deep breath. When you exhale, drop your arms down and laugh.”

Huhtala’s next sessions of laughter yoga are set for Nov. 2 and Dec. 7 at the Valley East Public Library from 7 to 7:30 p.m. The classes are open to adults and children aged 10 and over. Admission is free but donations of non-perishable food items are welcome for community food banks. Those interested in participating can contact [email protected] or phone 705-673-1155 ext. 225.

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