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How Daily Laughter Can Help Beat Stress

No joke—a daily dose of chuckles is one way to de-stress. That’s the idea behind "laughter yoga."
Photograph by Jekaterina Nikitina/Getty Images.

As I flap my elbows and walk around the room clucking like a chicken, there’s no denying it: I feel silly.

I’m in the function room of a library in Arlington, with 15 strangers (oddly, most are elderly women), in what can best be described as an hourlong recess for grownups. We talk gibberish to each other. We dance in a conga line. We waddle like penguins. We stretch out our arms and buzz around the room like airplanes.

This is a free Laughter Yoga class offered monthly by Diane Cohen, a—don’t laugh—certified laughter-yoga leader. On second thought, laugh—Cohen would encourage it.

Laughter yoga isn’t really yoga. The only yoga-ish part is some deep breathing. Besides the breathing, we play like children, clap a lot, and do laughter exercises.

What are laughter exercises? In one, we sit in a circle and introduce ourselves. After each person says her name (or his—there are two men), the group laughs. Sure, it’s fake laughter, but advocates claim that your body can’t tell the difference—that fake laughs still reduce stress hormones. And darned if, after a while, the fake laughs didn’t turn into real ones.

If you can’t attend a monthly laughter-yoga session, that’s fine: It’s better to laugh—real or fake—on your own every day. Just 10 to 15 minutes, Cohen says, can do everything from improve memory to boost your immune system.

You could watch The Daily Show or online cat videos—whatever cracks you up. Or, as Cohen suggests, get a daily allowance of chuckles while in the shower. Say a hearty “hee hee hee” as you shampoo your hair, “ha ha ha” and “ho ho ho” as you soap up.

The next morning, I forced myself to snicker through my shower. While it was hard to sustain for ten minutes, by the end I did feel lighter and energized.

And, yes, I felt silly. That’s the point.

To learn more about Cohen’s workshops, e-mail her at arlingtonlaughteryoga@yahoo.com. To find other certified leaders, visit the Laughter Yoga website.

This article appears in the December 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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Executive Editor

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986. She is the editor in charge of such consumer topics as travel, fitness, health, finance, and beauty, as well as the editor who handles such cover stories as Great Places to Work, Best of Washington, Day Trips, Hidden Gems, Bikes and Hikes, Fairs and Festivals, Great Small Towns, and the Washington Bucket List. She lives in Arlington.