As a complete stranger made quite intense eye contact with me before laughing whole heartedly and embracing me in a bear hug, I started to wonder what the hell I had gotten myself into. It was the first Monday night of 2015 and I had decided to spend it trying out my first ever laughter yoga class, with Laughter Yoga Dublin with three of my incidentally less apprehensive friends.
Laughter yoga was first made popular by Indian physician Madan Kataria, in his 2002 book Laugh For No Reason. What started out as an activity practiced in public parks in India now has more than 8000 clubs in more than 65 different countries.
Its health benefits mainly boast of quickly spreading oxygen around the body, which can have positive effects for your cardiovascular system and mood. Its said to help ease menstrual disorders, arthritis, depression and a number of respiratory disorders such as asthma and bronchitis.
It’s an activity that its directors uber-smiley couple Niall Mac Giolla Rua and Amba Cunneen insist will only work if you try to leave your inhibitions at the door. Feeling silly for acting silly, Niall reminded us, stems from another person at one point in our lives telling us our childish innocence was stupid.
However, don’t show up as many have (we of course all had a laugh at this) with a yoga mat, runners, leggings or any of the usual pre-requisites to get your yogic stretch on. This particular type of yoga borrows the word from its meaning of ‘to join or unite’, rather than its more well-known downward facing dog alternative.
The class takes on the incredibly useful life philosophy of ‘fake it ‘til you make it’, and Amba and Niall guided us in a number of different, exaggerated types of laughter exchanged with our classmates as we walked around the room in our socks. These ranged from ‘heart laughter’, to ‘I know what you did’ laughter to ‘ting-a-ling laughter’ (which included a surprisingly necessary impression that you were riding a bike).
It also involved getting down on your hands and knees and trailing across the carpet pretending to be a sheep, which is actually a lot more fun than it sounds.
Although I did feel a bit squirmish for the first three quarters of the class, by the time we lay on the floor in our final exercise to laugh solidly for five minutes, I began to appreciate just how infectious laughter can be. Just as you were sure staring at a ceiling with a group of strangers could not really be humorous, a chest beside you would begin to shake or someone would let out a stifled giggle and the room would erupt in hysterical laughter again.
Afterwards, you do genuinely feel like you’ve had a work out, only one that instead of staring into space on a treadmill involved watching your best friends fall over repeatedly in new and unexpected ways.
A bit manic maybe, but also a bit brilliant.
As Robert Frost once said, “if we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane.”
Laughter yoga is held on the first Monday of every month (next session is 2nd of February) in Harvest Moon Centre on Baggot Street, Dublin 2.
Hannah Popham @HannahPopham