There is nothing like laughter to beat the blues and feel alive and zestful, as hundreds of university students in a fitness class are discovering to their delight.
Laughter also works your muscles. Twenty seconds of a good, hard belly laugh is worth three minutes on the rowing machine. Incorporating hasya or laughter yoga can boost the benefits derived from a regular exercise routine.
The 'hasya' laughter course is a part of growing trend in the United States, India and other countries. The students are re-learning something children already know instinctively: that laughter makes you feel better.
A brainchild of a family physician from India, Madan Kataria, hasya yoga is being taught by Barb Fisher. She is an instructor at the class being offered by University of Michigan's Mfit Health Promotion Division.
The daily routine begins with chants like "ho ho, ha ha ha," a warm up exercise, amid clapping of hands and walking around the room.
Over the next half-hour, students will stretch their muscles and work on breathing exercises. They'll also laugh for most of the 30 minutes, from self-conscious giggles to uninhibited belly laughs.
"Kids laugh about 400 times a day, and adults only about 15," noted Fisher, a certified laughter yoga leader. "Laughter is a gift that has been given to us to make us feel better."
Fisher teaches her students that it is not only fun to laugh, but hasya yoga also reduces stress, boosts immune, cardiovascular and respiratory systems and helps overcome bad digestion and constipation.
Even with all of these health benefits, though, laughter yoga should only supplement other types of aerobic and weight-bearing exercises.
"The biggest effect that I've gotten from laughter yoga is what it's done for me mentally, and that it has lightened up my day and my week," says Deborah Slosberg. "I also think it has improved my breathing."
"It gives me a relaxed feeling, and yet I actually feel like I worked out," says Ann Twork. "You get back some of the child in you."