Laughter as a Yogic Practice

by Sharon Gannon |
January, 2009
All the way to heaven has got to be heaven.
St. Catherine of Siena

Happiness is the goal of yoga – the goal of life

We can become stuck in negative habits that distance us from joy, which is our true nature. Yoga practices can help us overcome these habits by making us aware of them. When you practice asana, you may feel resistance to joy. Your tendencies toward anger, greed, jealousy and sadness may be expressed as pain and tightness in the body, and as confusion, doubt or worry in the mind. Our bodies act as storehouses for our past experiences (karmas). Memories, which trigger emotions, exist not only in compartmentalized files in the brain but are stored throughout the body in the internal organs, in the blood, in the muscles and bones, in all of the cells and tissues. As neuroscientist Candace Pert says, “The body does not exist merely to carry the head around.

The mind and body are not just connected – they are actually made of the same stuff, but just appear in different densities. Consciousness, or the knowing principle, infuses the whole body and mind.

Asana practice addresses not only outer muscles and joints but also organs, deep tissues, glands, blood and fluids, helping to release toxins from them. Healthy individuals can experience a wide array of emotions and not be adversely affected because they are able to process these emotions. But when we become overloaded, and are unable to digest our sensory experiences, these feelings become toxic and become trapped in our physical tissues. Emotions can be stored deep in our organs. Unexpressed feelings and negative emotions that have been long suppressed can short-circuit the entire body-mind system, resulting in debilitating dis-ease. Fear and anxiety can seep into the large intestine. Anger can become lodged in the liver. Greed takes root in the heart.

Laughter is an ancient yogic healing technique that can rid you of deeply held negative emotions. It has profound therapeutic value in restoring well-being and health, leading to happiness. Laughter induces relaxation, and because of its ability to free the body and mind of pent-up emotions that are obstacles to self-reflection, it is a potent prerequisite to meditation. It is good when laughter is spontaneous, but when emotions have been buried for so long that they have become deep-seated tensions, the conscious practice of laughing can be very healing.

The asana called hasahasana (laugh-asana)* can help to induce laughter. Lie on your back and lift both arms and legs up toward the ceiling. Flexing hands and feet, bend the right knee as you bend the right elbow, then switch sides, going back and forth until laughter overwhelms you… and keep laughing. As you continue to laugh, you may even feel like rolling around on the floor. Feel free to do this. If you have trouble getting the laughs going, try shouting “Ha! Ha!” or “Yahoo!” or “Ooowee!” out loud, or just allow yourself to speak nonsensical, gibberish words to spark the laughter. Let your whole body shake with laughter for no reason at all, and go beyond reason, beyond thinking. Being in a room with other people involved in the same practice will help you, because laughter tends to be contagious.

Continue this practice for five to ten minutes, then sit up and assume a meditation seat, keeping perfectly still. Whatever feelings arise now, let them come and let them go. You may find that tears begin to flow, and even flood your whole system. Let go of the tears. Allow this cleansing to occur by witnessing without judgment or apology. Sit with this for five to ten minutes. Then relax in shavasana and practice systematic, conscious guided relaxation of each body part, starting with the toes, moving upward through the whole body to the head. Then begin to go deeper: start with the internal organs and move upward following the chakra model – relax the organs of elimination, the organs of sexuality, the organs of digestion, the organs of blood circulation, the organs of respiration, the organs of sense and, finally, the organs of thinking.

After doing laughter meditation for a month, you will feel revived, refreshed, unburdened and deeply cleansed, with a renewed sense of balance, leading to equanimity of mind and enlightenment.

*See The Art of Yoga, by Sharon Gannon and David Life, Page 64.