What Happens During a Laughter Session?
Dr. Kataria's School of Laughter Yoga

Right Time and Place:  Ideally, a laughing session must take place in the morning. There are many reasons for this. It is always better to start the day with laughter. It keeps you in good spirits  and in a good mood throughout the day. It energises you and 15-20 minutes of laughter is carried throughout the day till you retire to bed. Though it is beneficial even if you laugh in the evenings, according to our experience, mornings are ideal. Because in the evening, everybody has his own time to come home and has other engagements. In western countries, during winter it is not possible to laugh in the morning. Health clubs, yoga groups, sports groups, work places like factories and offices are the right places when people can gather first thing in the morning and laugh in a group.
In organisations, the laughter session starts according to the time of commencement of office hours. We recommend that people laugh before starting their work. Many factories begin with prayers and then laughter. The total duration of one session should not be more than 20 minutes, including laughter, deep breathing and stretching exercises.

How Laughter Club Members Stand: All the members stand in a circle or semicircle, according to the space available, with the anchor person in the middle. He or she gives commands to initiate different types of laughter and exercises. The most important point to be noted here is that the members should not stand in a line to form a circle, as seen in military parades. The idea is that one should not feel conscious about breaking the circle or the line. It should be like a crowd format with people standing at random. The distance between members should not be more than 2-3 feet, the stretch of the arms, as members are supposed to look into each others’ eyes and laugh. If the distance is more, the eye contact will not be effective enough to stimulate a person to laugh. Moreover, members should not stick to one place throughout the session. During each type of laughter, one should go up to different people and laugh with them with good sustained eye contact, or  strike hands with each other whenever possible, depending upon the type of laughter.
A 20-minute session is a perfect blend of stimulated laughter, deep breathing and stretching exercises. One bout of laughter lasts for 30 seconds to 45 seconds. After each bout of laughter, or sometimes after two bouts, two deep breaths are taken, in order to give a break. This avoids exertion and tiredness. Sometimes, various neck, shoulder and arm stretching exercises are done in place of deep breathing between bouts of laughters.

Step I: Deep Breathing: The session starts when one takes a deep breath through the nostrils, simultaneously raising the arms up towards the sky, at an angle of 45 degrees from the middle of the body. The breathing in should be rhythmic, in accordance with movement of the arms and one should keep on filling air into the lungs, as much as possible, and then hold one's breath for 4 seconds. Then the breath is released slowly and rhythmically by bringing the stretched arms back to normal position. One can breathe out through the nose or preferably through the mouth by pursing the lips, as if whistling silently. By breathing out through the mouth like this, one can prolong the expiration, so as to also remove the residual air, which is normally held back in the lungs even after one exhales. Removing this residual air which contains more corbon dioxide, and replacing it with fresh air containing more oxygen increases the net supply of oxygen to the body. This is in accordance with yogic deep breathing (a type of paranayama) where the duration of exhalation is prolonged almost double the time of inhalation.
Deep breathing is a very valuable exercise for maintaining both physical and mental health. It increases the vital capacity of the lungs and keeps all the air cells operational to participate in the exchanges of gases. It also prevents bacterial infections in respiratory tracts, thereby being helpful to those suffering from asthma and bronchitis. Deep breathing cools down the mind and enhances mental stability.

Step II: Ho-Ho Ha-Ha Exercise: All the members start chanting Ho-Ho Ha-Ha in unison, with rhythmic clapping 1-2, 1-2-3. (Ho-Ho; Ha-Ha-Ha). The sound should come from the naval, so as to feel the movement of abdominal muscles, while keep the mouth half open. While chanting Ho-Ho Ha-Ha, a smile should be maintained and the head and the body should swing forward and backward as if one is enjoying the exercise. This can go on for up to one minute.

Step III: Hearty Laughter: After the Ho-Ho Ha-Ha exercise, the first kind of laughter is hearty laughter. To initiate all kinds of laughter the anchor person gives a command 1,2,3... and everybody start laughing at the same time. It builds up a good tempo and the effect is much better, rather than different members laughing with different timings. In a hearty laugh, one laughs by throwing the arms up and laughing heartily. One should not keep the arms stretched up all the time during a hearty laugh. Keep the arms up for a while and bring them down and again raise them up. At the end of a hearty laugh, the anchor person starts clapping and chanting Ho-Ho Ha-Ha 5-6 times. That marks the end of a particular kind of laughter. This is followed by two deep breaths.

Step IV: Greeting Laughter: Again under the command of the anchor person, the members come a little closer to each other and greet each other with a particular gesture, while laughing in a medium tone and maintaining eye contact. One can join both the hands (Namaste laughter), or do Aadaab Laughter by moving one hand closer to the face (as Muslims greet each other), or one can bend at the hips and laugh by looking in the eyes of the neighbour (Japanese way) or there could many other ways of greeting according to the region, state or country. This is  followed by Ho-Ho Ha-Ha chanting and clapping 5-6 times and deep breathing twice.

Step V: Silent Laughter With mouth wide open: In this type of laughter, the mouth is opened as wide as possible and participants laugh looking at each others’ faces and making different gestures showing their palms to each other, shaking their heads and sometimes their hands. Silent Laughter should be done with quick movements of the abdominal muscles as we do during spontaneous laughter. It should not be like a prolonged hissing sound, which looks more artificial.

Important: One should not apply excess force or over exert while laughing without sound. It can be harmful if intra-abdominal pressure is raised unnecessarily. One should try to impart more feeling rather than applying too much force.

Step VI: Humming Laughter With Lips Closed: In this type of laughter, the lips are closed and a person tries to laugh while making a humming sound which resonates throughout the skull. People can keep on looking at each other, making some gestures to stimulate each other. Some people also call it pigeon laughter.

Caution: One should not try to laugh without sound while keeping the mouth closed with force. This raises undue pressure in the abdominal cavity that may be harmful.

Step VII:  Medium Laughter: In this type of laughter, one laughs gently in a medium tone while going up to another person, or strikes palms with each other, either above the head or below the chest or both. There is lot of movement in the group as one should try to laugh and meet 4-5 different persons. This is very enjoyable as it is gentle and can be prolonged a bit, Plus there is interaction between various members.

Step VIII: Swinging Laughter: This is an interesting kind laughter as it has  a lot of playfulness. All the member move outwards by two meters to widen the circle. On instruction from the anchor person people move forward by making a prolonged sound of Ae Ae- Aeeeee....., simultaneously raising the hands and they all burst into laughter while meeting in the center and waving their hands. After the bout of laughter, they move back to their original position. The second time they move forward by saying Oh- Ooooooo.. and burst into laughter. Similarly, the third and fourth times they make the sounds of Eh- Eh... E.... and Oh- Oh... O... Many people are seen behaving like children and enjoying the fun.

Step IX:  One-Meter Laughter: This is the invention of a Laughter Club member dealing in cloth merchandise.  It duplicates how we measure an imaginary one meter by moving one hand over the stretched arm of  the other side and extending the shoulder. The hand is moved in three jerks by chanting Ae...., Ae....., Aeee..... and then participants burst into laughter by stretching both the arms. First  the imaginary measurement is done on the left side and then on the right. This cycle is repeated twice. Again, this laughter has a playful quality. People enjoy the chanting of Ae... Ae.. in a staccato manner.

Step X: Lion Laughter: This particular laughter has been derived from a yogic posture known as Simha Mudra (Lion Posture). In the lion posture, the tongue is fully extruded by opening the mouth wide, while eyes are kept wide open and hands are posed like the paws of a lion and the person roars like a lion. In Lion Laughter, the basic position remains the same as stated above. The only difference is that people laugh with the tongue fully extruded instead of roaring. Lion Laughter gives very good exercise to facial muscles, the tongue and throat. It is also supposed to be good for the healthy functioning of the thyroid gland.

Step XI: Argument Laughter: This laughter is competitive laughter between two groups separated by  a gap. Two groups look at each other and start laughing by pointing the index finger at the members of the other group. Usually, the women are on one side and men on the other. This is also quite enjoyable and helps to convert forced laughter into spontaneous giggles.

Step XII:  Dancing Laughter: Members are instructed by the anchor person to dance in the funniest way and laugh. This is very stimulating and enjoyable as many people come up with hilarious dance steps. All these types of laughter are intended to remove inhibitions and make a person more open and  extrovert.

Step XIII: Musical Laughter: This is not exactly a type of laughter but a singing of Ho-Ho Ha-Ha-Ha in a chorus based on folk dances, popular songs or any rhythm like conducting an orchestra by chanting only Ho-Ho Ha-Ha. Occasionally some giggles are added to make it interesting. This laughter has many variations, depending upon the state and cultural group.

Step XIV: Gradient Laughter:  This laughter is practised at the end of the session. All the members are asked to come closer to the anchor person. Gradient laughter starts with bringing smiles on faces and looking around at each other. Slowly, gentle giggles are added by the anchor person. Others follow and start giggling too. Slowly the intensity of laughter is increased further. And then the members gradually burst into hearty laughter. This goes on for about a minute. It is very refreshing and infectious.

Step XV: Closing Technique: At the end of the session three slogans are shouted. The anchor person delivers the first punchline by saying “We are the happiest people in the world." Everyone raises their arms and says. Y-e-ee-s. ''We are the healthiest people in the world!'' Y-e-s. "We are Laughter Club members!" Y-e-e-s.

Neck and Shoulder Exercises:  Since there is some fatigue after completion of the first round, members need to take a break before starting the second round. Here, neck and shoulder exercises are done. They have been incorporated because cervical spondylosis, neck stiffness and frozen shoulder are  common complaints after the age of forty.

Basic Guidelines for a Laughter Session: 1.  All the participants will start laughing at the same time when the anchor person gives the command 1,2...3.

2.  People should not stand far away from each other. To laugh without jokes, eye contact is the key. During each type of laughter a person must maintain good eye contact with more than one of his neighbours.

3. Do not apply too much force while laughing, it should be more of a feeling and enjoying of the process.

4. One should try to feel free like a child and make funny gestures to make others laugh.

Who Should not participate in laughter session?

1. Any person who feels any discomfort in any part of the body, must get himself examined by a doctor and work out his physical fitness status before joining the laughter session.

2. A mildly heavy head, after a laughter session in the beginning, is normal. Such individuals must not overexert and laugh forcefully. If you are already a hypertensive patient, get your blood pressure checked at least once in ten days. Don’t participate in laughter sessions if your blood pressure is high and uncontrolled. However, those taking treatment and keeping blood pressure within normal limits can join the sessions.

3.  Any heart patient on treatment, or one who has had heart attack in the past must get clearance from his cardiologist before joining laughter sessions. Those with a history of heart attacks and those who have had bypass operations done, may join the session if their treadmill (stress test) results are within normal limits.

4. Hernia: Hernia is a protusion of abdominal contents - various parts of the intestine mostly the small intestine - through the weakened wall of abdominal muscles. In those who have undergone any abdominal surgery, the site of the incision becomes the weakest point. With a repeated increase in intra-abdominal pressure one might get an incisional hernia. Another common type of hernia occurs at the groin. The abdominal contents can protrude through the inguinal canal and produce a swelling in the groin area while coughing, sneezing and laughing. Elderly people are more prone to this condition because of muscles weakened by advancing age. Those suffering from a long-standing cough due to asthma or chronic bronchitis, should be extra careful because they are more prone to developing hernia.
If someone gets swelling on any part of the abdomen or discomfort while laughing, they must get themselves examined by a general surgeon. If diagnosed to be suffering from hernia, once surgical correction is done, one should be assessed by a surgeon for fitness before attending laughter therapy.

5. Advanced Piles (Haemorrhoids): Those suffering from piles with active bleeding, or are at a stage when piles protrude from the anus, should not join the laughter session, as these conditions may worsen with increase of intra-abdominal pressure. The patient may join a Laughter Club once  surgical or other type of treatment is taken.

6. Recent Surgery: To be on the safe side, one should not join a laughter session, within three months of any major operation, especially on the abdomen. In the later case, one must get a go-ahead from one's surgeon.

7. Uterovaginal Prolapse: In some women, ligaments supporting the uterus become weak after the age of 40. Downward sagging of the uterus occurs, causing discomfort in the lower abdomen. One of the signs of such prolapse is involuntary passage of urine while coughing, sneezing and laughing. Such women should avoid laughter sessions until they are treated surgically.

8. Pregnancy: In a small percentage of pregnant women, there is a possibility of abortion if there is a repeated rise in intra-abdominal pressure and they should avoid laughter sessions, till some conclusive data is available, after conducting research on the effects of laughter on pregnancy.

9. During attacks of Cold and Flu: Acute viral infections are highly contagious and if a person with such an infection laughs, he is likely to spread the infection by way of droplets in the air. People should stay away for about a week once they catch a cold. The good news is that regular laughter therapy increases the resistance of the upper respiratory mucous membrane and people are getting fewer coughs and colds, as shown by a recent survey done in the first phase of clinical research on Laughter Clubs. 

10. Eye Complications: Any person with high intra-ocular pressure (glaucoma) with a history of rational or vitreous hemorrhage should take the opinion of an ophthalmologist before joining a Laughter Club.

info: Jan Thygesen Poulsen
tel.: +45 35 38 45 42
e-mail: jan-thygesen-poulsen@mail.tele.dk