Laugh Your Way to Better Health

Want an exercise routine you’ll stick with? Try laughing for a change. We’re serious: You can actually giggle, chortle, and guffaw your way through a fun, free, low-impact aerobic workout that boosts energy, lowers stress, relieves pain, promotes good sleep, increases oxygen to the brain, and much more.

A guided laughter session usually lasts 20 to 45 minutes, with exercises that combine natural laughter and breathing. (There’s no joke-telling.) Some people call the activity “laughter yoga”—especially since the laughing-for-health movement began in India—but it’s less about complicated poses and more about pure, simple play. And while it may seem a bit absurd to schedule time to do something we’ve done since babyhood, well, when’s the last time you really laughed out loud when you weren’t watching a funny movie, TV show, or cat video?

For my first official organized laughter experience, I took a workshop with my friend Caroline Haessly, a certified laughter leader from Issaquah. Caroline guided us through the clam-shell laugh, the lost-in-a-strange-airport laugh, the starting-a-lawnmower laugh, and the laugh you do when you gleefully tear off those annoying mattress and pillow labels that say “DO NOT REMOVE THIS LABEL.” In between, we clapped and shouted choruses of “ho-ho-ha-ha-ha, ho-ho-ha-ha-ha” and took big stretches and deep, cleansing breaths.

Next, I caught up with the Tee Hee Hee Laughter Group at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. On the Friday I stopped by, the group included a mix of Harborview employees, patients, and folks like me who just dropped in for a play break. After about a half-hour of gleeful romping, everyone was ready for whatever else the rest of the day held in store.

One of the Harborview coaches, Tita Begashaw, recently auditioned for America’s Got Talent in a bid to bring the power of full-body laughing to prime time. While the audience loved her, grumpy host Simon Cowell didn’t get the joke. But that didn’t bother Begashaw, who works as a receptionist at Harborview and who also has led laughter groups everywhere from low-income housing communities to high-flying corporations including Boeing.

In fact, not much bothers Begashaw—ever. She has personally seen the power of laughter overcome depression after a family tragedy, and she uses laughter to promote joy among everyone she meets, from her fellow employees to a 90-year-old aunt in Ethiopia. “Joy is our nature,” she says. “My own practice is to have joy, moment by moment.” Laughter is our universal language, she adds, with no special skills required and no age limit. After all, if children can laugh and smile hundreds of times every day, so can adults.

Teresa Verde has offered laughter workshops at Pacific Northwest retirement communities since 2001. “Laughter instantly connects you to whomever it is you’re laughing with,” she says, so it’s a great activity to beat feelings of isolation. Another benefit: “Laughter helps you get along with others, because you don’t ‘sweat the small stuff,’” she notes. When you can literally “laugh off” petty things, you can deal with big issues much better, too.

Everyone is welcome at Harborview’s Tee Hee Hee Laughter Group, which meets each Friday at noon in Room 1-MB-118 of the Norm Maleng Building at 410 Ninth Ave. in Seattle (or outdoors in View Park just west of the Harborview campus, if it is sunny). Other laughter clubs meet regularly at Green Lake in Seattle, as well as in Bellevue, Kirkland, Olympia, and Redmond. Find them by searching for “laughter yoga” at meetup.com.

It’s more fun to laugh with other people, in person. But you can get the benefits on your own at home via Skype, with sessions scheduled several times a day. See skype.laughteryoga.org for more information. Or search for laughter yoga videos on You Tube. The ones posted by Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga University, are a good place to start. Have fun and remember: Laughter is contagious!

Julie Fanselow is the author of many travel guidebooks and hundreds of magazine articles, and she served as her father’s primary care advocate during his final years of life. She lives in Seattle and is writing a book on the arts and memory loss.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Thanks Julie, very nice synopsis of Laughter groups;-) Great pics too! Can I just put in a plug to come laugh (at Harborview or other venue;-)if folks reading have never done this laughter ‘exercise’? (Or even if you have, heehee:) My dear friend, Elva swore it helped her aches and pains, she felt the benefits for hours after! I have been doing this regularly since she ‘dragged’ me to my first one in April 2002, and it has been the best! for the mind body and spirit:-) Right up there with Music and the Arts!

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