Can laughter be a way of meditation?
A Dubai-based author and yogi demystifies meditation practices, adding a hearty dose of mirth
The idea of meditation is often associated with an outdated notion of being in an outlandish state of trance, unnaturally disconnecting from the world around us — an idea many feel too fatigued to even try. And understandably so. The thought of silencing the intrinsic chatter of daily routines and sitting idle for more than just a few minutes can often seem daunting to a lay person living in a world of 24x7 social media buzz and digital engagement. But what if something as natural as having a good laugh could equate to the meditative edge of sitting in silence? We’ve always been told that laughter is the best medicine but how often have we fully experienced its benefits? Turns out, the bevy of laughers you pass by dismissively on your morning walks might actually be on to something!
In his recent novel, a Dubai-based author and a wellness yogi, Ranganath Subramoney, also known as Ranga, establishes the strong connect between laughter and one’s mental and spiritual wellbeing. “Laughter for me became a bridge. Instead of just walking into a room and siting down to relax and close your eyes, which can be overwhelming, I ask my participants to follow simple moves, where they laugh, move around and act playful. This immediately brings them to the present moment, pushing aside the troubles of the day,” adds the yogi, explaining the benefits of laughter as a grounding practice. “Once you’re fully present and achieve this stillness, then moving into a meditative state becomes more effortless, less intimidating and more joyous.”
Practising mindfulness and wellness techniques across Buddhist and Western forms, for over four decades, Ranga has taken on a path to spread the progressive enrichment that he has experienced in his own life, through embarking on a transformational road to self-awareness, to the people around him. “Last year was unprecedented in many ways and I thought to myself, if my techniques and practices can help others, I want to spread the message as far and wide as possible.”
His new book, The LAAF Way, seeks to draw on his own experiences of being a wellness coach, to establish the role that laughter and play can have in our overall wellbeing. “It’s astonishing the amount of evidence-based research there is, around laughter and its benefits — both physical and emotional. Laughter is not only referred to as the cheapest medicine, but can also be regarded as a universal language that everyone understands.” While the primary spotlight of 2020 was on health, boosting immunity levels and protecting oneself from the virus, people’s mental health also took an equal hit. “What last year predominantly taught us is that mere health is not sufficient anymore. We need more than health. Beyond coping, we need to learn how to flourish and thrive. And to achieve that, we not only need health but also a concept of total wellbeing — physical, mental, spiritual, social and emotional. To live not just life but all of life.”
Being brought up in a family of light-hearted giggles, laughter is second nature to Ranga. His yogic practices, over decades, have allowed him to combine laughter therapy with mindfulness techniques, to create a concoction of health benefits from his signature practice. “Laughter literally washes through your body. Whether it’s moments before an important meeting, or you’re frantically putting in a parking ticket — suddenly, all that melts away and laughter takes over. You cannot laugh in the past, you cannot laugh in the future, you become grounded in the present moment.”
In this day and age, where digitally expressing laughter, through ‘LOL’ or ‘Haha’, seldom equates to a real laugh, and cracking jokes has become synonymous to offence in an overly-cautious society, having a good chuckle can be underrated. The condescending glares at the receiving end of a belly laugh have evolved the very nature of laughter to a hush-hush murmur. The LAAF Way is the author’s way of enquiring the disappearance of laughter from one’s daily life. “It’s interesting, children laugh between 300-400 times a day, and adults laugh maybe between 5-15 times a day. So, where did the laughter go? When did life become so serious that as we grow up, we’re told ‘shh’, that’s not proper behaviour, don’t laugh too loudly, this is a quiet area,” Ranga adds, essaying the importance of having a good laugh. “Somehow, as we grow up, all these restrictions come into place and in the process, we begin to take ourselves very seriously.”
When asked how he weaves in laughter during his meditation sessions, the author says, “Laughter today is very often restricted to a joke, a comedy you’ve seen, a funny incident or someone at the receiving end. Genuine laughter has decreased in our lives. Laughter yoga is not a comedy show, it is not about standing up on stage and telling jokes.”
Ranga creates a set of specific exercises, combining some of the key elements of our life, such as laughter, play, music, dance and movement into yogic breathing techniques and meditation. “The starting is what you’d term as fake laughter. The body cannot distinguish between fake and real laughter. The muscles start moving and the message that goes up to the mind is that, there is laughing and moving around, so there must be something nice that’s happening,” adds the yogi. “Fake laughter converts to real laughter very quickly.”
The laughter, albeit fake initially, can ignite a number of tangible physiological benefits. “It establishes a body-mind connection, leading to a number of hormone responses in the body. Suddenly, you get a surge of happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin. It not only uplifts your mood, but also improves your blood circulation, lowering your blood pressure. The advantages are endless,” he says.
The wellness yogi conducts programmes for individuals, social groups and corporates, to indulge in simple activities that spark a laughing spree. “I even teach individuals how to laugh on their own. At times, when you feel low, a quick 30-second laughter can cheer you up.” For those who don’t wish to turn heads with loud howls, in the middle of the street, the yogi encourages practising silent laughter. “I’ve done that at the airport, waiting around for my flight. Nobody knows what I’m doing, yet, I get the same benefits of an open laughter group. Or if you’re in a crowded space, just hold up your mobile phone, pretend you’ve got a call and start laughing — try it,” he signs off, with an unrestrained guffaw.