Daily Egyptian

Laughter and lion face: A new kind of yoga

By Autumn Douglas, Daily Egyptian

Wide eyes bulged above flexed cheeks and bared teeth as adults stuck their tongues out and growled at one another. Between snarls, people sporadically broke into laughter while jumping forward and clawing the air.

Random noises filled the air as people, young and old, embraced their inner-child by smiling as if they just learned how to.

“Think bubbles,” a man shouted to his friends at the Gaia House on Wednesday during the first laughter yoga session, which was led by Pradnya Dharmadhikari.

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The goal of laughter yoga is to use laughter as a method of relaxation to develop a happy attitude, relate to people and allow it to have a continued effect even after the exercise, said Dharmadhikari.

Dharmadhikari said shehas been doing yoga for 30 years and leading yoga for 11 years in her home. She leads posture and meditation yoga at 5 p.m. every Wednesday at the Gaia House. She hopes to develop a following with laughter yoga, so it can also meet every week. 

Laughter yoga, which was developed by Dr. Madan Kataria in India, has spread to 100 countries, according to Laughter Yoga University’s website. It’s an exercise that promotes prolonged, voluntary laughter, reduces stress, strengthens the immune system and increases energy, which will make participants happier and healthier.

Suzy Shepard, an SIU alumna who now lives in Carterville, said she regularly does yoga, but laughter yoga was like nothing else she has done before.

“At first it was kind of awkward because she was asking us to laugh when we weren’t in a laughing mood yet,” said Shepard, who attended with her daughter Shannon. “But once we got into it, it was fun and there’s a lightness about it.” 

At Wednesday’s session, yogis practiced exercises such as pretending to be in the forest with ants in their pants, acting like a lion and laughing as if they were babies giggling for the first time.

Although participants were voluntarily laughing in the beginning, the silly antics quickly made their laughter spontaneous.

As Rene Cook, a participant from Murphysboro, put it: “I get hysterical all by myself just watching people laugh.”

Shepard, who is a retired psychologist, said not only is the exercise fun, but it has been proven to be good for one’s health.

“Everyone needs to do it at least once,” she said. “Laughter is good for your spirit. We know laughter is healing because of the endorphins it generates. … It was wonderful and really fun.”

Autumn Douglas can be reached at 618-536-3325 or [email protected]

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