Laughter Yoga: It really is funny

Published 12:27 am Wednesday, October 4, 2017

SALISBURY — Joan Palmer directed the people in the semicircle with her to raise their arms and breathe in deeply.

Then on the release down toward the floor, she wanted them to give their best belly laugh possible. So it was up, breathing; down, laughing. And after you do this a few times with people all around, you really start laughing and feeling better.

There’s something funny about Laughter Yoga — and that’s the point.

Palmer is a certified Laughter Yoga teacher, and she recently guided a meeting of the Rowan County Alzheimer’s Support Group through a series of techniques aimed at making them laugh.

“I hate to disappoint you — it’s not really yoga,” Palmer told the participants.

Yes, there is some breathing, stretching and overall movement. But the main goal is to get you laughing. The Laughter Yoga folks like to call it a “well-being workout,” and who needs it more sometimes than the caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s?

“Hopefully, it’s going to help me be a better caregiver for my mother-in-law,” said Teresa Dakins, a community outreach specialist for Trinity at Home. “… It’s not anything like any of us thought it would be.”

Some positive effects also have been seen in seniors with advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s, “because it is a physical technique that does not require mental comprehension,” according to Palmer, owner of Palmers’ Promotions.

“I love to laugh,” she said. “I love to get people healthy and happy, and this is so cool.”

Started in 1995 by Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician in India, Laughter Yoga has spread to 16,000 laughter clubs in 100 countries. Kataria founded Laughter Yoga International and Laughter Yoga University.

Palmer took her Laughter Yoga instruction in Atlanta from Debbie Ellison, who was directly trained by Kataria. Palmer said it’s a scientific fact that laughter is good for you — the best medicine, so to speak.

Laughing lowers the level of stress hormones in your body, strengthens your immune system, and improves mood and quality of life. It gives one a more positive attitude in challenging times. Caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s know about challenges.

Laughter Yoga relies on a lot of eye contact, playfulness, breathing and laughing to provide an oxygenation of the body and brain.

Palmer said the good part is you can start out with fake laughter. The brain — the stupid thing that it is — doesn’t know the difference. You get the same physical and mental benefits from a fake laugh as you do from a real one, Palmer said.

But as one of her typical sessions proceeds, the real laughs usually take over.

With the Alzheimer’s Support Group, Palmer began with clapping, laughing chants of “ho-ho” and “ha-ha” and movements side to side. And in between each laughing technique she showed them, the group would repeat with her, “Very good, very good, yay!”

In one exercise, Palmer asked her group to imagine buying a new kind of cream that when you spread it on your body it made you laugh.

“Are you ready?” Palmer asked.

And they were off, covering themselves in the imaginary lotion and laughing their heads off.

In other cases, the group was making laugh milk shakes. doing the tee-hee laughs of children being tickled and humming out “Jingle Bells” with the three-part harmonies of “Ha-ha,” “Ho-ho” and “Hee-hee.”

They laughed like Lucille Ball would in her show “I Love Lucy.” They stifled laughs as if they were trying to control themselves in places such as church or the library. They did a group “vowel movement,” chanting the vowels while joining hands in a circle, then rushing in to meet each other in the middle.

Palmer led them in blowing up balloons, so they could release the air to the theme song of the old “Lone Ranger” television show. When they were finished, they let go of the balloons, and that’s always funny.

“You need to laugh every day,” Palmer said.

You can do it before you get out of bed. You can do it in the shower. Just imagine spreading on that laughing cream.

“You’ll be amazed how it lifts you,” she said. “It makes a big difference in how you feel the rest of the day.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or

To contact Palmer about Laughter Yoga, email her at