DUBAI If you pass by Ductac at the Mall of the Emirates on Wednesday evenings or Dubai Creek early in the morning, don’t be shocked if you see a bunch of men and women laughing out loud without any reason — these folks are only doing yoga — laughter yoga, to be more precise.
And though there’s no scientific proof to show that laughter can cure cancer — or other diseases — laughter yoga has spawned many adherents across the UAE, who vouch for its ability to fight stress, depression and a whole lot of other ailments.
Author and behavioural-coach-turned-laughter-therapist Sahar Moussly, who conducts weekly laughter yoga classes at Ductac said: “Laughter not only improves one’s health but brings new perspective, renews self-esteem and provides a sense of empowerment. Laughter is the best medicine — without the side effects.”
She cited clinical research on laughter yoga methods conducted at the University of Graz in Austria and at other places — Bangalore (India) and in the US — showing that laughter curbs stress hormone levels (epinephrine, cortisol, etc....) in the blood.
Scientific studies also show laughing can increase one’s tolerance to pain as the brain releases more endorphins, a pain-control chemical the body produces naturally.
“It is less likely for a person with a positive and hopeful attitude to succumb to stress and feelings of depression and helplessness,” said Sahar.
Laughter yoga has become popular across the UAE with daily attendance at the voluntary Friends of Yoga (FOY) classes increasing consistently. From a few members, the organisation, which was started in Dubai 22 years ago, today boasts 25,000 members, 250 trained yoga teachers, with another 100,000 people attending free yoga classes at its branches across the globe.
Spin-offs of the group hold daily sessions in 14 places across the UAE — and have spread to about 20 other countries, as more members migrate from Dubai.
Hala, an Arab woman in her 50s, joins the daily FOY stretching and laugh-without-reason sessions by the Creek — they use about 100 kinds of laughter techniques (monkey laugh, lion laugh, etc...).
“Wellness starts from the mind,” said Hala, who dislocated her knee three months ago, but said yoga helps ease the pain.
The most ardent yoga practitioners are jet-set business executives. Abdul Rahman, 53, general manager Dubai-based Arctic Trading Co, joined the group 12 years ago. “Not a single day passes without me doing yoga, even when I am on holiday.”
The father of two has formed yoga groups in his native Chandigarh, India, as well as two cities in the US (Seattle and New Jersey) and in Toronto, Canada. “Wherever there’s a public park and people willing to join in, we form new groups… and they grow on their own,” said Abdul Rahman.
Motti Kottukulam Kurien, 42, is a Dubai-based managing director of a software company APTerp that employs 60 people in the UAE, India and the US.
“It is a form of breathing that takes negative feelings away,” said Kurien, who’s been doing yoga for seven years.
But this requires discipline: He and his friends are up by 4.30am to start their one-hour walk prior to the hour-long yoga, capped with hearty laughter sessions. “The pay-off is that I am able to make better decisions and feel fresh till bedtime at 10.30pm,” added the karate black-belt holder.
Among the laughter yoga enthusiasts are medical practitioners who use humour therapy, akin to laughter yoga, as a tool for healing patients.
Dr Shankar Vodela, a physician who runs a polyclinic in Deira, said: “It is a fact that laughter helps release endorphins which results in pain relief and brings a feeling of well-being, boosts the immune system and reduces stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Laughter can also improve circulation of oxygen and improve supplies to tissues. And it is universal — anyone can benefit from it regardless of age.”
Sahar’s method of laughter coaching aims to help people get rid of their inhibitions, express themselves freely and successfully with others. “Laughter and humour make one unit, they are inseparable. One can use humour in order to laugh or laugh in order to develop a sense of humour. Therefore, if you don’t have a sense of humour, don’t worry. You have to laugh yourself silly, laugh for no reason, play like a child and you will see the sense of humour flowing,” said Sahar.
Friends of Yoga: Daily 5.30 to 6.30am, Dubai Creek (across the road from the Dubai Municipality office)
Laughter Yoga with Sahar: Wednesdays from 7.15pm, Ductac (Mall of the Emirates)