By Isabel Ovalle
Laughing is good and we don’t do it enough. A good laugh for 10 to 15 minutes a day increases the body’s weekly energy consumption by up to 280 calories. Laughing also brings more oxygen into the body and the brain, while also stimulating the release of endorphins – chemicals produced in the brain that generate a feeling of well-being. These, among others, are good reasons to laugh out loud at least 100 times a day. A good way to do this is laughter yoga, popularised by Indian physician Dr Madan Kataria, who launched the first Laughter Club in Mumbai in 1995.
Today, the laughter movement is a worldwide phenomenon and there are thousands of laughter clubs in more than 72 countries. Laughter yoga has reached Qatar thanks to Art of Abundant Living, a well-being and health coaching company, which has engaged Gabi Pezo, a certified laughter yoga teacher, for this purpose. Classes take place in Al Ahmadani Centre on Mondays and Thursdays.
Laughter yoga combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing. “Anyone can laugh for no reason, without relying on humour, jokes or comedy. In these classes laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group; with eye contact and childlike playfulness, it soon turns into real and contagious laughter,” explained Pezo.
The teacher, born in Ecuador, obtained her certificate in Miami, and lived in Dubai before moving to Doha a few years ago. However, this is the first time she is teaching laughter yoga here.
“The concept of laughter yoga is based on the scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter,” she explained. Consequently, the person gets the same physiological and psychological benefits even if the laughter is simulated.
“It helps to deal with minor irritations that come across our way in daily lives. Broken vending machines, traffic jams, rude teenagers or long queues in the supermarket which can cause major stress reactions. Learning to laugh alone helps to face these anxieties in a much positive way,” adds the expert.
Pezo first experienced laughter yoga in 2007. “I got my certification as a laughter yoga instructor in Miami, but when I told my teacher I was moving to Dubai, she said: ‘You can never make it there’. Her comment stuck, and for a few years I focused on my job at an advertising agency until, in 2011, I did some work with kids and decided to go back to it,” she said.
“For children, it’s a different type of class. But you can also do it with seniors or patients in a hospital. You can do it with everybody except with people that are really ill, pregnant women on their third trimester or people with heart problems,” she added.
“Laughter yoga can make you feel embarrassed and awkward at first, so if you’re going to try it, I recommend leaving all those prejudices at the door and let go. The class comprises various exercises that will take you back to your days at the playground, allowing you to let your inner child out and forget about stress and daily worries. From inhaling air and exhaling a burst of laughter to tickling the person next to you in between laughs, you can expect the unexpected and have a lot of fun that will leave you with a smile on your face for the rest of the day.”
Pezo added: “When I finish a class I feel really happy and extremely relaxed. It’s the happiest workout on earth. It lets you be in a good mood and keeps you positive throughout the day. It also leaves me exhausted because I put so much energy into it.”
The laughter enthusiast recommends laughing for 15 minutes every day. This simple activity can be done in the privacy of one’s home. The instructor considers the shower to be the best place to do it. “It’s the only time of the day that is all for yourself and when you don’t have to worry about feeling embarrassed,” she said.
“I hope laughter yoga is welcomed by everyone in Qatar. I think people here can benefit a lot from laughter yoga because this is a very stressful city due to the traffic and other issues. My hope is that everyone enjoys it, both Qataris and expats. I think it would also be great to take it to schools, because it teaches children not to laugh at other people and laugh at everything.”
The most important thing about laughter yoga is having the willingness to do it, maintaining eye contact and engaging with other people, because laughter is engaging and you have to be able to play with others.