Laughter Yoga: Fostering Senior Health and Happiness

Laughter does more than bring people together; it benefits the entire body.

The gathering room at AlmaVia of San Rafael was filled with laughter on a recent Wednesday afternoon as residents participated in some lighthearted exercises with Teena Miller, a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher. The event, part of AlmaVia of San Rafael’s innovative programs to encourage holistic wellness within the community, brought residents together in a fun atmosphere centered around fostering health and happiness.

Dr. Madan Kataria created laughter yoga 20 years ago to help improve physical, mental and emotional health. The practice is based on the philosophy of enacting joyfulness. It is a no-impact physical technique blending intentional laughter and breathing exercises—it can be performed by anyone, in any environment, while sitting.

“Laughter has a huge benefit for the human body,” says Miller, who embraced the power of laughter as a late-stage cancer survivor and has been teaching laughter yoga for five years since studying under Kataria.

When you laugh, your heart contracts faster, increasing oxygen flow to the body and brain. Advocates for laughter yoga say it works as a natural pain reliever, helps to reduce stress and tension—and can even boost the immune system. Laughter also serves as an excellent treatment for depression because it helps to improve your emotional disposition, says Miller.

Senior Health: Emotional Wellness

Miller encourages people to just come and observe, even if they don’t want to join in. She wants everyone to feel comfortable and safe from the beginning—even though the idea of planned laughter can feel, well, silly. The exercises revolve around the idea of intentional, or forced, laughter. “The human body doesn’t know the difference between real laughter and artificial laughter,” says Miller, so the health benefits are the same. While the exercises may start with intentional laughter, “pretty soon, because we are social creatures, it becomes genuine,” she says.

Miller’s goal is for each participant to be relaxed and have a good time. You just have to make eye contact and “fake it till you make it,” she says. As people look at each other and see friends laughing, they start laughing as well.

The laughter yoga event at AlmaVia of San Rafael was the perfect example of how laughter can bring people together. “I loved it, I’m coming back,” says resident Gloria Cherin. “I was laughing at the different movements. You can’t help but laugh!” And the residents appreciated its health benefits as well. “It’s good for the body and the mind, I had a great time,” says resident Renee Jannes.

“Laughter yoga provides an innovative, life enriching, and holistic approach to wellness through fun and laughter for our community,” says Ashley Gravatte, Life Enrichment Coordinator at AlmaVia of San Rafael. It is just one way that Elder Care Alliance works toward its mission of promoting engagement, supporting all aspects of senior health and increasing residents’ quality of life.

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