Fitness: Unlocking My Trapped Laughter

Posted by in September's Magazine

Ha ha hah! Ho ho hoh!” Lying on the floor of my fitness studio, with four near strangers all in hysterics I wondered, is this therapy, fitness or a Fringe act? For a brief moment I forgot where I was or why I was laughing. Then it came back to me. Kicking my feet in the air like a grown up baby I realised this was what laughter yoga is about. A regression. An experience. A merciful escape from the boring adult things in life. It may have been a bit out there, but the taster session run by laughter artist Kate Green certainly tickled our collective funny bones.

Laughter yoga is a relatively new form of yoga that combines deep breathing with energetic laughter. It was established in India in 1995 where there are now proliferations of laughter clubs. The interesting aspect of laughter yoga is that it doesn’t matter if you’re laughing about anything specifically, or simply laughing for the sake of it. In fact, the beginning of the session was all about laughing out loud, with forceful exhalation of breath. Kate led us in various laughter exercises to warm up our laughter muscles. To begin with it was a bit embarrassing laughing for no reason, but then we got onto my favourite exercise, the ‘Monkey’ where we all loped around the studio making monkey noises whilst imitating hysterical primates…personally I was a baboon. After about five minutes we were all laughing at each other as we were laughing. You know how it is, when one person starts laughing, other folk laugh at them laughing. As perceived wisdom has it, laughter is infectious. After 45 minutes, my sides were aching from belly laughing.



The wobble board
That infectious aspect of laughter may well be what many Fringe comedians thrive on. They pause in a joke, so you know you’re meant to be laughing. You hear other folk in the audience laughing and so you (often involuntarily, depending on the quality of comedy) start laughing too. Sometimes I think the best part of a comedy show is actually the end, when you get a nice post-comedy buzz from laughing for an hour or so.

I decided to do a bit more investigation on laughter and what I discovered was that it’s not a hugely documented subject. I did discover a few things. The physiological study of laughter is called gelotology. As babies we can laugh before we can talk and laughter really is a universal language, understood by all humans around the globe. The funny thing (boom, boom) is we don’t really know why we laugh. One theory kicking around the interweb involves the involuntary release of energy, like you’ve got pent up laughter in you that you need to release every so often for the benefit of your health. Does that mean that some people have more trapped laughter than others? What happens if they don’t laugh? Do they explode?

Most day-to-day laughter doesn’t actually involve jokes or anything deliberately funny. It’s more a form of communication. Laughing makes you feel good, physically it increases your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, and releases lots of ‘feel good’ endorphins that are pinging around your bonce. Perhaps we habitually laugh because it is infectious and makes those around us laugh too. Life feels good when you laugh as it diffuses and relaxes a situation. Apparently we’re 30 times more likely to laugh when we’re in a social situation than when we’re on our own – no surprises there then! So laughter is a social interaction that makes us feel physically better and, according to science, it doesn’t really matter what you’re laughing at or about, as long as you’re laughing. So even laughing for no particular reason can be good for your health.

Perhaps if we practised more laughter in the current climate of recession and penny-pinching doom and gloom – trams shambles and Leith biomass anyone? – we would all feel a lot better. As George Bernard Shaw said: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

From a fitness perspective, laughing works your abdominal muscles and you could argue that it’s more fun than a lot of tummy exercises (both, at the same time, are ideal, try laughing when doing a sit up). Bringing fun to fitness makes exercising enjoyable, personal favourites are hula hooping, skipping, the wobble board, spacehoppering, tossing a ball around and running around a park. They all have the added benefit of being very useful exercise – try skipping ropes for 5 minutes in a free moment. So next time you’re dreading exercising, try doing something that will put a smile on your face. The beauty of it is, it doesn’t really matter why you’re smiling…


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