Deputy editor Hayley Skirka gets her giggle on at a laughter yoga class in one of the city’s most serene studios.
Laughter yoga? What’s that?
Despite its name, laughter yoga isn’t about chuckling in downward-facing dog pose; instead, it’s about working through emotions. Drawing on the idea that laughter is visually contagious, the practice simulates laughing techniques and utilises breath work and brain games.
Arriving at The Yoga Studio inside the Royal Stables, the first thing you’ll notice is the serenity – the air is broken only by birdsong or the occasional braying of a nearby horse.
The studio itself is stunning, spacious and bright with inspirational prints on the walls and beautifully-landscaped gardens outside.
Gathering in one of the studios, our instructor, Vishal, takes us through a few brain games as a warm-up.
He says ‘jump forward’, and we are meant to repeat what he says, but do the opposite. The same applies to ‘stand up’, ‘step to the left’ and so on. It’s surprisingly tricky to master and the class is far from synchronised, but Vishal doesn’t seem to mind.
Laughter yoga is about more than just laughing and instead aims to guide participants through various feelings to help them release any trapped emotions.
We begin by portraying angry tigers, roaring loudly and sticking our tongues out as we thrash around the room. Next, we pretend that we are scared of something – feeling the emotion of fear.
Then, we begin the laughter, chuckling at what silly things we were afraid of as children. It is definitely forced laughter, but looking around the room and seeing other people laugh does begin to bring genuine smiles to the surface.
Standing in a circle, we each act out a laugh that the group then replicates.
I go for a full on, clutch-your-belly and chortle effort and the others copy me. Another classmate grabs the back of her head and bellows as she looks to the ceiling and another girl laughs timidly, her mouth hidden behind her hands.
Not one for making things easy, Vishal goes for what he calls a monkey laugh. Screeching like a primate, he jumps wildly around the room while scratching the sides of his body. I decide that he must be slightly crazy, but in a fun way.
As per the rules, we must copy him so I find myself jumping around a yoga studio screeching like a monkey at 5pm on a Tuesday evening, not exactly something I had ever planned to do.
I throw myself into the class – jumping like a frog as I croak, kicking my legs up in the air like a small child as I lie on my back and essentially letting go of any shred of professionalism I may still have been clinging on to.
And that, says Vishal, is what the class is all about: “As adults we all wear a mask. Whether it’s the mask of being a good student, a good employee, a good boss, a good wife – we are not free. This class strips away those masks to let participants just be.”
The next exercise involves learning a song about being happy while performing hand actions to accompany the words.
Again, not anything I’d ever expect to do in a yoga class but Vishal’s ebullience keeps everyone on track.
Lastly, we lie down in shavasana – finally something I’m familiar with. As we relax, we follow the instructor’s lead in humming various sounds, letting the vibrations roll through our bodies. After a few minutes of this, stillness and silence bring the class to an end.
What’s the verdict?
As a massive yoga enthusiast, I’ve tried plenty of classes over the years and I can reliably say that this is the strangest one I’ve ever done. It felt more like a drama class than yoga, but Vishal’s enthusiasm managed to hold my interest for the entire session.
What are the benefits?
Laughter – even simulated laughter – produces brain wave frequencies similar to those produced during meditation.
These gama frequencies are believed to improve our clarity of thought. Simulating other emotions helps people feel better as it diffuses some of these feelings in the body, which can help relieve stress.
After just one class, I’m not immediately aware of any benefits but Vishal explains how to build on the experience: “When you come to the class you benefit from other people’s positive energy as well as learning the tools you need. You can then use these tools at home with friends or family, every day for just five or ten minutes, and you’ll notice a difference.”
AED 70 per session or AED 300 for five sessions. The Royal Stables, corner of Al Saada and Karamah Streets, Al Mushrif. Tue 4.45pm. Contact: 02 447 7735, firstname.lastname@example.org