By Nikki Carter Laughter yoga is a form of exercise or therapy that involves elements of voluntary laughter and playfulness. Although the concept may seem strange or awkward if you’ve never heard of it before, think about how often you’ve heard the saying, “laughter is contagious!” I know when I am around someone who can’t… [Continue Reading]
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Alternative Healing Series: What is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter yoga is a form of exercise or therapy that involves elements of voluntary laughter and playfulness. Although the concept may seem strange or awkward if you’ve never heard of it before, think about how often you’ve heard the saying, “laughter is contagious!” I know when I am around someone who can’t stop giggling, I start laughing too, often without even knowing what’s going on.
There is evidence that laughter yoga is not only fun but also beneficial. Studies have shown that it provides the same benefits as physical exercise and can relieve stress, increase oxygen flow within the body, boost the immune system, and more. I spoke with two local laughter yoga instructors to learn more about this practice: Andra Aitken, a teacher at Wild Lotus Yoga, and Jolene Fehler, Executive Director at Funny Bones Improv.
A Bit About Funny Bones Improv
Founded in 2008, Funny Bones Improv is a non-profit that seeks to share the benefits of laughter with sick children, their families, and their caregivers in hospitals in New Orleans and Chicago. The company offers improvised performances and laughter yoga sessions as a way to bring joy and healing to children who are suffering. All of the comedians that perform with Funny Bones do so on a volunteer basis and rely on donations to accomplish their mission.
Jenny Schecter, Development Director, says this has been the greatest volunteer work she has ever done and that the group is “uniquely addressing the needs of children and their families during hospital stays. Being in the hospital can be isolating, boring, and scary. When I perform a show, I get to watch the audience shift from quiet and tired to laughing and energized.”
Interview with Andra & Jolene
Nikki Carter: What is your background in laughter yoga?
Andra Aitken: I have been practicing laughter yoga since my husband gave me a session for my birthday 2 years ago. I teach at Wild Lotus Yoga here in New Orleans, where I merge laughter yoga with traditional yoga postures in my classes. (Click here to watch a WGNO piece on one of her classes.)
Jolene Fehler: I learned about laughter yoga while living in Vancouver and immediately thought it was amazing. Laughter is so incredibly healthy and here was a way to take advantage of its benefits all the time! At the time, I was getting my MBA – I wasn’t able to get certified then, but in December 2008, I was certified as a leader by Sebastien Gendry in Chicago and then I was certified as a teacher in April 2010 with Dr. Kataria, who founded the practice in 1995. I’ve been doing laughter yoga sessions and certifying new leaders ever since! I have certified 12 people and run many sessions.
NC: Are you offering any upcoming laughter yoga events?
AA: There will be a free morning Laughter Class on Saturday, September 6th. I have a 4-week course coming this fall titled, “Cultivating Joy – Happiness Practices for a Happier You.” I also have a Laugh & Flow Workshop in October. To get more information, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JF: I currently run a monthly free session in Audubon Park. To learn more, people can contact me at email@example.com. It’s also good to know that you can practice on your own anytime! All you need to do is laugh. Even if you pretend to laugh out loud for 2 minutes straight, you still reap the rewards. So whenever you feel stressed, just take a deep breath and start to laugh. Do it right now and see how you feel – you will immediately feel better! You just cannot feel angry while you are laughing. I actually do this practice in my car a lot.
NC: Jolene, you’re the Executive Director for Funny Bones Improv. Can you elaborate a bit on how laughter promotes healing in children?
JF: There is great research about how laughter in general generates oxygen into our bodies, which is how all of the health benefits begin. For example, increased oxygen levels contribute to higher endorphin levels, lower stress, better sleep, stronger blood pressure, and more. It’s also a great cardiovascular workout. Nobel Peace Prize winner Otto Warburg speaks to the value of oxygen, essentially saying that cancer cannot and will not survive in an oxygenated environment. Pretty powerful stuff!
For our purposes, laughter is not only a health tool, but a social one. By visiting hospitals and getting the patients and families to laugh, we get to boost their health but we also give them the social benefits, which are so critical since these children are in a hospital and removed from having normal social interactions. We also believe that when the children are laughing with us, they are not concentrating on or thinking about why they are in the hospital. They are actually giving themselves a break from worrying and stress, which immediately relieves some of it.
Thank you for reading about laughter yoga! To make sure you’re always connected to the New Orleans yoga community, be sure to follow us on Facebook andTwitter. To sign up for e-mails from YL click here, enter your information in the box at the top right corner.
From Mamas to Babies, Tots & Teens: Yoga for All Ages and Stages
Unlike other physical activities, yoga has no limits. People of nearly all ages and abilities – from pregnant moms to tots to teens – can reap the benefits of a yoga practice… with proper instruction, of course. Here in New Orleans, options abound for different yoga classes to suit different moods, ages and stages.
Prenatal Yoga – I practiced yoga throughout my two pregnancies, so technically, both of my sons were practicing along with me before they were even born. Although my babies didn’t arrive in this world chanting “om,” prenatal yoga did help strengthen my connection with them, while relieving the aches and pains of my growing body. I was also lucky to experience two relatively quick, seamless labors and deliveries, which I attribute in part to the mental and physical strength I gained from yoga. For more on the benefits of prenatal yoga, read Brooke’s YL article: “Prenatal Yoga: There’s More to it than Om.”
Baby Yoga – Postnatal yoga classes are a safe way for new moms to get back into shape, meet other moms, bond with their babies and even pick up some great baby-soothing techniques. One trick that I picked up from a “Mommy & Baby” yoga class was to calmly chant “om” several times to a fussy baby. Miraculously, it helped to distract my baby from crying, and helped me stay calm as well. Read this Gambit article for even more postnatal yoga benefits.
Yoga for Toddlers & Kids – My son, Jackson, loves to show off his downward dog, upward dog, plank, camel and child’s poses to anyone who cares to watch. Not only is it ridiculously cute to see a two-year-old boy practicing yoga, it’s also a great way to help him channel his boundless energy – and temporarily stay out of trouble! Kids of all ages can benefit from the mental, emotional and physical strengthening of a yoga practice. Yoga can also empower children with healthy self-esteem, citizenship and leadership skills, through innovative programs like NOLA’s Yoga Power Play.
Yoga for Teens – Anyone who has ever lived with a teenager or who has ever been a teenager knows that the adolescent years can be filled with significant physical and mental transformations, anxiety and drama. However, a recent study has shown that yoga can actually help teens ward off anxiety and moodiness. The study followed a group of high-schoolers who took yoga classes or a regular school PE class for 10 weeks. The students took a set of psychological tests before and after the program. As a result, anxiety and negative emotions stayed the same or improved among yoga students, but grew worse among those taking regular PE. Plus, nearly three out of four participants said they’d like to keep on doing yoga. Read on for more info on the study and the benefits of teen yoga.
This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of the local yoga programs for moms, babies, tots and teens. If you know of other classes or events, send us a note or post on our Facebook page.
- Balance Yoga - Prenatal yoga & nutrition classes
- City Park Movement & Art - Yoga + art classes for toddlers and kids
- Elmwood Fitness - Prenatal yoga at Heritage Plaza location (for more info, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Freret Street Yoga – Prenatal yoga classes will begin in September
- Swan River Yoga - Prenatal yoga
- Wild Lotus Yoga - Prenatal yoga, Mommy & Baby Yoga, Teen yoga, Teacher training courses for kid’s yoga
- Yoga Krewe - Prenatal yoga
- The Yoga Room - Toddler and Kid’s yoga
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