Health

Laughter yoga keeps instructor smiling

'One of the best things you can do in life is laugh at yourself'

Bruce Miller says laughter yoga is good for both mental and physical health.
Bruce Miller says laughter yoga is good for both mental and physical health.   Terra Tailleur

Bruce Miller has a contagious laugh.

His laugh, as well as the laughs of several others, could be heard echoing throughout the Keshen Goodman Library on Saturday during a laughter yoga class that runs once a month.

Miller has been teaching this “laughter for no reason” form of yoga for three years. After retiring early, he wanted to do something unique.

This uncommon style of yoga incorporates different breathing exercises with laughter. The yoga part comes from the breathing, which is a crucial aspect of all yoga. The laughter helps create positivity and happiness, a crucial part of healing and health.

“The breathing helps because a lot of people, including myself, are shallow breathers, so to get healthier we need to breathe deeply,” says Miller.

There are no poses, no downward dogs, only breathing, and of course, laughter.

“The laughter part of it is pretty challenging for some people because we’re doing some kind of foolish things,” Miller says with a laugh, describing exercises he does in his classes such as walking around like a penguin, or roaring like a lion, all while laughing.

Jann Chabassol has been taking classes at the library for a year, and the laughter is by far her favourite part of the class.

“It’s fun, it’s weird, it’s just really good for the soul,” she says. “It stays with you, you remember to laugh more. You should incorporate it more. I think there should be more classes like this to get more people involved.”

Jann Chabassol says laughter yoga is 'good for the soul.'
Jann Chabassol says laughter yoga is ‘good for the soul.’   Terra Tailleur

The laughter has its benefits, both physically and mentally.

“Laughing changes the chemicals in our brains, it helps to increase endorphins, and serotonin and all that good stuff,” says Miller. “It’s said that doing a 30-minute laughing yoga exercise program can be equivalent to a 15-minute aerobic workout because all the laughing we’re doing is from our belly, which helps the abdominal muscles too.”

Miller emphasizes the benefits on mental health. He used to be a social worker and is currently on a provincial psychiatric review board.

“I think a lot of people look to external stuff to make people happy — house, spouse, cars, job, all that kind of stuff — when ultimately it’s our choice in looking inside ourselves and realizing that we’re the ones in control of our own happiness. It’s helping people realize that it’s me that can make myself laugh.”

His favourite part about teaching a class is seeing the immediate changes laughter has on a person. He shares an anecdote from a class he taught for a chronic pain support group, whose stories of living with chronic pain were difficult and intense. Going in, Miller had no idea how laughter yoga was going to help. And then they got started.

“I tell you, wow, I saw a dramatic mental health shift in people. You could see the endorphins and stuff kick in and even if it was just for the moment, I think they were able to enjoy life without the pain,” Miller says.

The laughter yoga technique was developed by Dr. Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from India, and has spread across 100 countries.

Miller hopes to train others to be laughter yoga leaders.

“I do this because people are receptive and when they laugh, it confirms in my own brain that what I’m doing is right. Because it helps me enjoy life.”