Ha-ha health

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Wellness doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, sometimes all we need to feel healthier and happier is a good laugh. Xpress spoke with therapist Lisa Harris about her laughter yoga groups. She shares how the slightly bizarre, but oh-so-satisfying practice of intentional laughter is crucial for combating the “epidemic of seriousness” that can threaten our funny bones.

Mountain Xpress: How would you describe laughter yoga?

Lisa Harris: Laughter yoga is a way for a group of adults to play through a series of laughter games and deep breathing. Knowing you can laugh for no reason is very therapeutic. Laughter can help oxygenate our blood, brain and other organs. It boosts the immune system, lowers stress, increases endorphins, fights aging, increases circulation and helps concentration. It’s also good exercise. Laughter yoga is an exercise class, an improv class and an hour of creativity and play. Try laughing for one minute; it’s equal to the aerobic exercise you get from 10 minutes of rowing.

How is laughter yoga similar to traditional yoga? It doesn’t involve poses like yoga, but it does involve deep breathing along with the laughter games. Laughter yoga was founded in 1995 by a medical doctor, Madan Kataria, in India. His wife was a yoga teacher, so he included the deep breathing exercises. Laughter yoga came to America shortly thereafter.

What does a laughter yoga group session involve? We talk for 5-10 minutes for introductions and to discuss the benefits of laughter. Then we make up our laughter names. For example, I’m Laughing Lisa “Ha Ha” Harris. Next, we unzip our “adult suits,” remembering times when we enjoyed laughing in childhood. Then we play 25-35 minutes of laughter games.

Can you describe some of these laughter games? Most of the games are just about playfulness. They’re silly games. There’s a traditional Indian game called Laughter Milkshake. You pretend to drink a milkshake, saying “glug glug glug” as you mix it, then throw your head back to “drink” and laugh. There’s the Ha-Ha Cha-Cha, doing the cha-cha step while laughing. There’s Shy Laughter; Bold, Big, Beautiful Laughter; Evil Laughter; and Gibberish.

As a therapist, do you use laughter yoga with your private clients? I use it in therapy for people who admit they take themselves too seriously. Laughing with me can help a client lose self-consciousness and build self-esteem. When you laugh, you push old oxygen though your body, and it’s a good thing. It makes you happy, and we all need more happy! If you stop and laugh for a minute or two when you’re stressed, it will release stress hormones. Then you can problem-solve. We can’t problem-solve when we’re stressed. We have an epidemic of seriousness, and the medicine is laughter. It’s not in a pill form; you can take it anytime and administer it yourself. It’s free and infectious.

Lisa Harris, LCSW, has more than 15 years’ experience counseling individuals and couples. For private sessions and laughter yoga groups, visit ashevillewomenscounseling.com, or call 216-3994.

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