Yoga laughter can be the best medicine

The good news is you no longer have to bend over backwards to find your happy place.

"Laughter yoga" is the latest craze to help people feel better about themselves - all without twisting yourself into all kinds of contortions like traditional yoga.

But you do need to force yourself to laugh in a room full of strangers, which is arguably harder than bending to strike a traditional yoga pose. It's even been embraced by Oprah.

The country's first laughter yoga conference will be held on the Kapiti Coast next month. Other topics include heart health, making the right choices and "meditative doodling".

With laughter yoga, to get the ball rolling the teacher gets people to chant something like ho- ho-ha-ha-ha and what starts off as contrived fake laughter soon erupts into genuine giggles.

"The body doesn't know the difference, the brain is just thinking, 'by golly we're having a good time'," registered nurse and laughter yoga teacher Pat Armitstead said. "It's producing serotonin, endorphins are being released, so you get that feel good effect and you end up laughing for real."

The new-age form of the ancient relaxation and meditation practice is just as contagious, with laughter clubs springing up around the country from Whangarei to Dunedin.

Armitstead, who has dubbed herself a "joyologist", first taught it to residents at an Auckland rest home and noticed their spirits lift - some even started to play pranks on each other.Conference organiser and teacher Lynda Andrews turned her hand to laughter yoga in 2007 to dig herself out of a depressive episode. 

''I've tried a couple of different types - the salute to the sun or whatever, but I just couldn't cope with those things. I would have to hold the position to long and I would start giggling and told to be quiet.''

She now laughs every morning to top up her happiness and runs classes which involve rhythmic clapping, chanting and breathing exercises. 

The hour-long sessions can be quite physical and the feel-good factor can last up to five days.

Andrews was taught by the ''guru of giggling'', medical doctor Madan Kataria , who founded the movement in 1995 after researching whether laughter really is the best medicine. It has since attracted fans worldwide, including Oprah Winfrey, and has spurred thousands of laughter clubs in 72 countries to be created. 

Learn more about the Kapiti conference at

The Dominion Post