Having a bit of a laugh
Barry C Chung
Every morning on her way to work Angela Lee On-ki fires off a WhatsApp message to friends and students.
'The message is quite basic, just something like: 'Good morning. Ho ho ha ha ha. Have a nice day ...',' Lee explains. 'The main point is to remind people to keep laughing and smiling throughout the day.'
Lee is a certified Laughter Yoga instructor. She knows of five other instructors in Hong Kong and thinks there are not more than 10 in the entire city.
She found out about Laughter Yoga from a TV programme and did some research, which led her to Dr Madan Kataria, a physician and the movement's founder.
Soon Lee was on a plane to Bangalore, India, for a five-day training course led by Dr Kataria, aka the Guru of Giggling, who took the phrase 'laughter is the best medicine' literally.
He devised a series of exercises and added yoga breathing techniques in a system he calls Laughter Yoga. It has since caught on worldwide.
'When you inhale, your stomach should expand, since air is filling your diaphragm,' Lee notes about proper breathing. 'And when you exhale, your stomach should contract. But most people don't breathe this way; they do it the opposite way.'
Back in Hong Kong, Lee set up a series of workshops to teach and preach the benefits of laughter. Currently she conducts free workshops for friends, friends of friends and family.
Participants all chip in to pay for a venue - usually a studio so they can roam around barefoot and cause a laughter riot without neighbours calling the police.
During sessions Lee urges participants to unleash their inner child by 'laughing for no reason'. After warm-up, they introduce themselves as they chant the mantra 'Ho ho ha ha ha'.
The idea is to bring out the medical benefits of laughing. Our bodies, Lee explains, do not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary laughter. Both release endorphins - a chemical in the brain that makes us feel good and can boost our health.
Laughing a lot is no mere idle activity. Each two-hour session can be a bit of a workout.
Lee instructs participants to laugh with their mouths wide open and from the belly. This helps clear the lungs and places less strain on your vocal cords.
To aid the process of unrestrained laughter, Lee asks the group to play-act and clown around during absurd scenarios she tells them to imagine. Then they feel free to laugh away!
She concludes sessions by asking everyone to lay on their backs and close their eyes with their arms stretched out.
Then in a calm, soothing voice, she lulls them into a meditative state so they can slow their breath and relax their body from head to toe.
It's not uncommon that a student or two even falls asleep during the exercise and begin snoring loudly.
Lee says anyone can practise laughter yoga, even on their own, every day to release stress and lighten their mood.
An ideal time is in the morning just after you wake up.
'Fifteen minutes should be enough to boost your energy for the entire day,' Lee notes.
Then again, doing Laughter Yoga in small groups can have its benefits. Laughter, after all, is infectious. Seeing other people giggle hysterically, you can't help bursting out laughing, too.
And when you remember that laughter is very good for you, you'll have even more cause to laugh your head off.
So come on now, giggle away!