Laughter Yoga For Stress Relief

Dr V.V. Rama Kumar explains how laughter benefits your physical and mental health. World Health Organisation defines stress as `a state of worry or mental tension caused by difficult situation'.
Laughter Yoga For Stress Relief
Mike Crane Photography

What is stress?

Stress is a normal phenomenon, a reaction of the human body to any change experienced by it. This reaction may further result in physical, emotional or intellectual responses. The changes or challenges caused by internal or external factors serve as the stressor. The response produced by the body is called stress.

It is actually a normal reaction that is experienced by everyone. It can have positive implications as stress responses help our body to adjust to new situations keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. What causes concern is the intensity of the stressor and the frequency of stress reaction. When the stressor continues without any period of relief, it can have an adverse impact on physical and mental health.

When the body experiences a stressful situation, its built-in stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response, gets activated. The body prepares itself to either fight or run away. This response is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Blood flow to the muscles and limbs increases, heart rate and rate of respiration also increases. The body prepares to act and protect itself.

The body is designed to handle small doses of stress. However, long-term or chronic stress resulting in prolonged activation of the stress response causes wear and tear of the body. This results in developing physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms.

  • Symptoms of stress

  • headaches with tender temples

  • lethargy and constant fatigue

  • frequent cough and colds

  • stomach ache

  • nausea

  • indigestion, irritable bowel or constipation

  • muscle tension with backache

  • difficulty in sleeping

  • breathlessness

  • light headedness

  • increase or decrease in appetite

  • increased smoking or drinking

  • loss of sexual drive frequent mood swings

  • feeling of isolation

  • lack of self-worth

  • poor decision-making abilities

  • irritability and aggression

  • difficulty in concentrating

    All of us suffer from some of these symptoms on and off but if they persist you need to unwind and laugh more.

Coping with stress

“It is not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it” - Hans Selye

Everyone experiences stress differently. People also apply different ways to cope with stressful situations. It is important to be able to identify when and what is causing the stress. Committing to self-care is the next important step, followed by seeking help and support from family and friends. Regular monitoring and interventions from a health practitioner is also necessary.

During stressful times it becomes even more important to look after and treat yourself kindly. Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, incorporating exercise and relaxation time into your routine helps cope with stress. Speaking about stress, emotions, feelings, what's making you stressed also helps. It may even help to put things into perspective or at least provide relief by talking things out.

Laughter yoga therapy

Laughter yoga was initiated by Dr Madan Kataria and his wife in Mumbai in the year 1995. Laughter is initiated as an exercise and is usually practised in groups wherein participants laugh without any reason and without relying on any humor tools.

Laughter spreads amongst the group through eye contact and child-like playfulness. Following are the principles of laughter yoga:

  • It is called laughter yoga because it uses both laughter and yogic breathing in combination

  • Laughter should be sustained for at least 10 to 15 minutes to get health benefits. Prolonged laughter brings beneficial physiological, hormonal, and psychological changes in the body

  • Laughter should be deep and with belly laughter using diaphragm

  • Laughter should be unconditional. Steps in laughter yoga:

  • Clapping

  • Breathing exercise

  • Childlike playfulness

  • Social benefits

Laughter yoga may also enhance social and financial well-being. It strengthens the mind to be jovial through any adversity. Benefits of laughter yoga practiced at workplaces:

  • Reduces heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels, thereby reducing stress levels

  • Calmer minds have positive, progressive and productive approach towards work and life.

Laughter matters

The best things in life are free. Laughter is free and universally available. It has no language and is easy to use. Laughter is scientifically proven to be a stress buster. Laughter improves and elevates your mood. It diffuses anger and depression. It reduces stress hormones. Some scientific studies have proven that it reduces stress hormones like adrenaline, epinephrine and cortisol.

There is a biological explanation of how laughter reduces stress, anxiety and depression. Laughter has been shown to exert stress-reducing effects by suppressing the bioactivities of epinephrine and cortisol. These hormones increase our heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose.


This hormone drives your brain's reward chemical. It is released when you are doing something pleasurable.


Serotonin stabilises the mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. Additionally, it helps decrease worries and concerns and is associated with learning and memory.

Serotonin laughter can alter serotonin activity.


Oxytocin is often called 'the love hormone'. Extensive research has linked oxytocin release to life satisfaction levels. Oxytocin is related to laughter. It appears to play a larger role in women's physiology and happiness. Oxytocin is mainly correlated with a loving touch and close relationships. This hormone provides a multiple hit by stimulating serotonin and dopamine while lowering anxiety.


Laughter increases endorphins which are feel good chemicals because they can make you feel better and put you in a positive state of mind. Elevated endorphins help to reduce stress, improve sense of well-being and relieve pain.

In a recent study, nurses involved in covid care perceived less stress when they practiced laughter yoga. Laughter yoga reduced perceived stress and burnout levels and increased life satisfaction. Laughter yoga is a simple, safe, and effective method that can be used to control the negative emotions that emerge during intense and stressful periods. Self-care practices such as laughter yoga improved nurses' overall health and provide better quality patient care. In hospitals particularly, practice of laughter yoga should be recommended for all healthcare professionals.

To conclude

You cannot laugh and be stressed at the same time because they activate opposite branches of the autonomic nervous system. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system which is the fight or flight response the system that lets us respond to emergencies. Laughter activates the parasympathetic system that is responsible for relaxation and rejuvenation.

The predominance of one tends to suppress the other. Laughter quickly reduces the level of stress chemicals and hormones in our body. Significant reduction can occur within minutes and last for days. The physiological effect of a single laughter session can last 24 hours and regular sessions can produce profound and long- lasting changes. It also reduces the symptoms of depression and prevents many diseases and disorders caused by chronic stress.

Dr. V.V. Rama Kumar is a senior diabetologist from Guntur. Mary Jane Mayes Scholar 1998

He was awarded fellowships in diabetology from RSSDI,and Diabetes India.Recipient of national award in diabetes awareness. Certified laughter yoga leader.

Speaker and promoter of laughter therapy in various National and International conferences.

Diabetes Health Magazine