Julie Plaut Warwick was an intern at the Healing Center in 2013, running a booth at Gasworks Park about grief, when people started asking for the laughter yoga event. “‘It’s World Laughter Day,’” she recalls them saying. “I was like, what is this? I kept on looking across the lawn at the people doing laughter yoga.”
Six weeks later, she went to Olympia to train to lead the practice. “When you listen to other people laugh, it’s contagious,” she says. To date Plaut Warwick has trained 17 people locally to lead workshops, and word is spreading: laughter can heal.
Founded by Madan Kataria, a doctor from Mumbai, India, in 1995, laughter yoga (also known as laughter therapy) combines pranayama breathing with intentional laughter. Coined the Guru of Giggling, Kataria was moved by research that showed physical and psychological benefits of laughing. After Plaut Warwick finished her training here, she flew to India to train with Kataria. She is one of thousands of Kataria’s laughter emissaries around the world, organizing events and trainings.
Kate Butcher admits that her first encounter with laughter yoga felt “a bit weird,” but something stuck. “I come from England, and I have a tendency to be quite serious,” she says. Deciding to try something new, Butcher signed up to train with Plaut Warwick. “After the weekend I felt like I’d had an internal workout,” she says. “You’re getting so much oxygen. I felt like I’d had this internal cleaning out.” She now teaches laughter yoga in addition to her coaching, facilitation, and consulting services, and finds it a way to build team spirit, enhance creativity and productivity, and decrease stress in corporate environments.
Although “laughter is the best medicine” isn’t about to be a statement approved by the FDA, some studies point to the benefits. Ted Brown, a doctor at EvergreenHealth in
Kirkland who specializes in MS and rehabilitation medicine, participated in one of Plaut Warwick’s laughter therapy classes, which inspired him to bring it to his patients. After two laughter therapy sessions with her produced positive results — namely, improved spirits and increased energy — Brown began seeking approval to study the medicinal effects of laughter therapy.
Plaut Warwick, who spent many years as a Jewish communal professional before obtaining her master’s in counseling and her laughter yoga certification, leads classes around greater Seattle, including at the Healing Center, where laughter is useful for children’s support groups. “With the kids, it’s nice way to release some energy before talking about the loss of a loved one,” says Jen McCormick, a clinical social worker who leads grief support groups for children and teens. “Laughter is a release just like crying. Kids need some kind of activity other than talk therapy. It’s been a super valuable addition to all the things we’re offering here.”
“I am constantly reminded of the healing powers of a friendly smile and sharing a joke,” Brown says. “You can’t come out of a laughter therapy class without feeling a little better about the world and about yourself. That is powerful medicine, and our bodies are just waiting for us to get started.”
Laugh it Off!
Participants in a humor study at Loma Linda University showed lower levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone,” after watching funny videos for 20 minutes.
Have a Heart
A study out of the University of Maryland Medical Center found that individuals with heart disease were less likely to have a strong sense of humor and were more likely to respond to situations with anger and hostility.
In the Loma Linda study, which focused on older adults, short-term memory was improved in the group that watched the funny videos.
Feel the Burn
Don’t cancel your gym membership, but 10–15 minutes of laughter daily can burn as many as 40 calories.