Written by Chloe Glover.
“It is said that laughter is the best medicine.
So perhaps it is no surprise that a wave of laughter yoga workshops are now taking place all over the UK, including in Huddersfield.
Originating from India, the quirky practise is bringing people of all ages and shapes and sizes together with the aim of lifting their moods by exercising one part but easily overlooked part of themselves, their laugh.
Chloe Glover took time out from the office to take part in a new session for the town, that is being piloted by laughter yogi, Nancy Nudds, who hopes to set up regular events here through her club, Sunshine and Laughter.
“There’s no punchline”, said Nancy, beaming to an intrigued if a bit nervous looking group of people at the Methodist Mission on Lord Street.
A former children’s hospice worker, she now runs workshops throughout Kirklees for everyone from business people, those with addictions to those in hospices and the retired.
And despite the name, there is no risk of getting stuck in an elaborate contortion through her classes, which instead encourage people to let go of their inhibitions and enjoy the simple but vital pleasure of laughing.
“This is about deliberate laughter that you can maintain through doing laughter exercises, yogic breathing and being playful”, she said.
“Laughing gives us more energy, makes us feel empowered and improves our mental and physical well-being.”
The strange art of laughter yoga was developed in India in 1995 by Mumbai doctor Madan Kataria who was researching the effect of laughter on health.
“He believed that some of his patients were better off practising laughing rather than taking medication”, said Nancy.
“Studies have been carried out which show that laughing can reduce pain, lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
“He got a group of people to meet in a park. They started off telling jokes but they eventually ran out so he came up with another plan of just getting everyone to laugh for prolonged periods of time, about 15 minutes, to have the same effect as laughing spontaneously.
“There are now 10,000 laughter yoga clubs in over 70 countries.”
We stood in a circle, shoes off, where Nancy started to reveal some of the weird but wonderful ways to make us giggle.
“There are four steps to laughter yoga– clapping and chanting, playfulness, yogic breathing and laughter, of course.”
We did some simple stretches and then followed our first instruction– laughing from the belly, which involved sounding our best Santa-style ‘ho ho ho’.
It quickly got sillier, with Nancy telling us to practice some chesty ‘ha ha has’ and squeaky ‘he he hes’ with hands held to our faces.
I must admit, I did feel a bit like a drunk children’s clown.
Next up were the laughs designed to help us get to know each other.
The greeting laugh was one way to surely make an impression on each other.
We walked around the room, shaking hands while laughing as hard as we could.
It was certainly bizarre, but hearing and seeing everyone else laugh was quite infectious and I soon found it hard to stop.
“Very good, very good, yeah”, shouted Nancy.
We all repeated her several times, throwing our arms into the air.
Doing the same silly action as everyone else was strangely liberating.
Who cared if we were laughing at ourselves and each other, that was the exact thing we had come to do, after all.
It got more hysterical when we were sat on chairs facing someone else, and told to point at them and laugh.
Far from feeling like I was being ridiculed (I did not care by then if I really was being or not), I felt totally at ease and close to the person whose name I did not even know.
Standing in a line to pretend to be a steam train then laughing passengers on a roller coaster had us jumping up and down.
I can only imagine what the people using the rooms below must have thought.
The most uncontrollable laughter filled the room when we practised the “toot sie ta” song.
It involved us chanting the phrase while adding in more and more wacky actions, which made it even funnier.
I was glad though that our photographer had not chosen this very moment to film us.
“You look 10 years younger”, said another participant afterwards.
I never turn down a compliment, but it did make me wonder how stressed I looked when I first walked into the room.
In fact, everyone there looked much more at ease than they first did, helped by their smiles and sniggers when thinking about what we’d just been doing.
“It’s a really safe environment so people are really able to let go”, said Nancy.
“Everyone says it’s not like they expected because they find it so liberating.
“One person who I’ve taught told me he hadn’t smiled for years.
She discovered laughter yoga herself after some “life changing experiences.”
“I needed to find something I could do that would make me feel better about myself and use to help other people”, said Nancy.
“I found it hilarious so I found a teacher and did my training in 2014 and became a teacher myself last year.
“I just want to make people aware of what laughter can do– how it can help us become more resilient to coping with the ups and downs of life, bringing more joy to our lives and act as a ripple effect through our friends.””