By Swami Nirmalananda
The yoga of laughter is a pranayama, a breathing technique. It works because it gets your breath moving, aerating deeply into your lungs as you get your laugh going. Everyone thinks they feel better because they mimicked being happy, but it really works because you’re breathing deeply. Better yet, your breath emphasizes the pause after each exhale breath.
This practice works best in a group. In the beginning, you force a laugh, maybe a “ha-ha” or a little titter. Then you do it again. Hearing others also make these somewhat phony laughs, it’s so silly that it actually makes you want to laugh. Soon your laugh is not forced.
The yogic science of breath is so profound! Your stairstep exhalation has a delightful effect on your mind, for each time your breath stops, your mind stops. This is the real secret to pranayama – using the quiet spaces in between breaths to quiet your mind.
Tasmin sati “svaasa-pra”svaasayor gati-viccheda.h praa.naayaama.h.
– Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.49
By sitting in stillness, pranayama naturally follows, which is the cessation of breath movement.
This tells the secret of using breath to master your mind – that your mind becomes still because you’re sitting quietly and your breath settles. This happens naturally when you’re sitting in your garden or, for me, watching the ocean. I love to sit and watch the waves.
The wave forms from underneath, the water pushing upward from the ocean floor. The wave crests and then tips over and crashes down. It’s mesmerizing for your mind.
Then you see the wave wash up the sandy shore. At the top, it stops. It becomes motionless for a moment. That’s the best! The moment of stillness, an moment of eternity. Then the wave glides back down the slope to merge into the sea again.
Your breath does the same thing. You don’t have to force it because it happens with every breath, whether you’re paying attention or not. Your breath comes in and then, for a brief moment, it stops in an internal pause. Then your breath goes out and again pauses briefly. The inner pause is called antara kumbhaka; the outer is bahya kumbhaka. These pauses are already there. They are happening right now.
When you sit for a while, your body eases into stillness. So does your breath. Your natural pause naturally lengthens. Your mind now settles into stillness. In meditation, it happens too — usually easier and for longer pauses.
When your body needs breath, it moves another breath spontaneously. And your mind starts up again. Yogis do pranayama, breathing practices so they can build up pranic reserves to make it easy to linger in the pause longer. It is an entry point into the blissful Beingness that is hidden in the deeper dimensions of your own being.
Once you dive deeper within, your breath can move without disturbing your mind. This is how your meditation can lengthen. This is how a Meditation Master lives, based in the deeper dimensionality within, even while they use their mind to participate in the world.
So when you do yoga laughter, you’re getting little bits of this. With each “ha,” your breath stops momentarily, giving you a glimpse of the doorway inside. Then you “ha” again. Lots of little peeks add up to a sense of what is hidden within. It’s like watching a train go by, you can see what’s on the other side in the little peeks between the moving cars. And when the train is gone, you can really see what’s there.
With yoga laughter, you get happy. You’re happy because you got a glimpse of the deeper dimensions of your own being. With pranayama and meditation, you get to enter into those deeper dimensions. It is mystical, not merely happy.