"Ha" Your Way To Health

Letting go of stress may be as easy as laughing. Hasya yoga—a combination of yoga and laughter—was developed in the mid-1990s by Bombay, India, physician Madan Kataria, and now laughter clubs are meeting regularly throughout the United States and Europe. Kataria's theory is that vigorous laughter—thought-free, no jokes allowed—practiced 20 minutes a day along with stretching and deep breathing can boost immune function and improve well-being.

A typical session starts with pranayama (deep yogic breathing) and arms-up-in-the-sky stretches, followed by "Ho Ho Ha Ha" warm-up exercises to get the muscles and throat ready to giggle. While making eye contact, participants then work out their laughter muscles, switching kinds of laughter (lion laughter, for instance, with tongue stuck out and paws raised) and intensity, from the chuckle to the guffaw. Fans of the practice say it leaves them feeling energized, calm and more optimistic.

In addition, some yoga studios incorporate a laughing sequence into regular classes. "It may seem silly, but at the heart of it, it's about joy," says Dana Flynn, director of the Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in New York City. "Laughing for no reason can turn a murky self into a happy self," she says. "Laughing is such a relief, for all of us."

For more information, check out www.laughteryoga.org.

—Kristine Merrill