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Ha-ha your way to health: yoga channels laugh power

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We’ve all heard the phrase “Laughter is the best medicine.”

It’s more than just a saying. When we laugh, there are measurable effects on the body, according to an article on the Mayo Clinic website.

In the short term, Mayo specialists say, laughter kicks off an array of health benefits. A good guffaw can:

“Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.”

A cheery chuckle can also:

Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.”

And a little “lol” can:

“Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.”

In the long term, the article says, a helpful ha-ha can jump-start the immune system, sooth pain and lead to greater personal satisfaction.

Want to boost your comic chemicals? You can watch your favorite comedy (My go-to is "What About Bob?"), or hang out with a friend who gives you the giggles. Or, you can take part in a relatively new form of body-work called “Laughter Yoga.”

Fake it till you make it

According to the website of Dr. Madan Kataria, an Indian doctor who originated the practice, laughter as an exercise routine is “a complete wellbeing workout.” In 1995, Kataria opened the first “Laughter Club” with just a few interested members.

Nearly 16 years later, there are now 6,000 Social Laughter Clubs in 60 countries across the globe.

These clubs don’t feature a stage where comedians tell jokes or slip on banana peels. Kataria says you don’t have to hear a joke or see something funny to laugh. It all begins when a group is instructed to simulate laughter.

That’s when the magic happens, he says: “. . .with eye contact and playfulness, it soon turns into real and contagious laughter. The concept of Laughter Yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.”

What I find appealing about this practice, which has been highlighted in media outlets ranging from TIME magazine to the Los Angeles Times, and from National Geographic to the "Oprah Winfrey Show," is its way-positive philosophy. Laughter Yoga Clubs are non-religious and non-political, so everyone can draw comfort and solidarity from their membership.

Laughter Yoga’s goal is ambitious: “To bring good health, joy and world peace through laughter.”

Finding the funny

Want to give it a try? Gatherings of the West LA Laughter Club—led by certified Laughter Yoga leader Kim Selbert—are held Wednesdays from 6 to 7 p.m. at The Gateway in West Los Angeles.

If you’re so inclined, you can start with a session tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 21. Your are asked to RSVP, which you can do via a link on the Portal’s calendar page if you are a member of Meetup.com, or by contacting Kim at (310) 849-4642 or kimselbert@mad.com

Admission is $15 at the door. Participants don’t need any prior yoga experience, but should be prepared for an hour of “breathing, clapping, movement and laughter exercises.”

You’ll find The Gateway at 2511 S. Barrington Avenue, Suite 100. in West Los Angeles. (NW corner of Barrington Ave. at Gateway Blvd. Entry door at outdoor patio.) Parking is available in a lot behind the facility on a first-come, first-served basis. There is also street parking.

You’ll want to bring a yoga mat or blanket, and your funny bone!

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