Laughter yogi Laraaji wants you to free your laughs and feed your soul.
– KEYS SOULCARE
It never ceases to amaze us how many paths there are to self-discovery, reconnection, and soulcare. But we’ve got to admit: our recent chat with composer, musician, and laughter yogi Laraaji truly tickled us.
Apart from diving into his joy-filled body of work — be it his installment of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series or those glowing Vogue write-ups — his playful-meets-mindful approach to laughter elevated everything we thought we knew about the power of a good laugh. We’re hoping it does the same for you. Check out our recent chat for LOL-worthy inspo.
Can you describe laughter yoga for someone that may have never heard of it before?
Well, what I do with laughter now is an extension of what I felt I was doing as a child and adolescent teenager. For me, it was playing with laughter and getting people into the laughter zone: my cousins, my uncles, my family. It’s the ability and the time that we spend in real, body-centered laughter.
How did you find your way to laughter as a personal practice?
[Sometime during] the 1980s, after about 10 years of standup and film comedy, someone pointed me to a book called The Orange Book: The MeditationTechniques of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. I browsed through the book and found one page dedicated to laughter meditation. Up to that point, I never thought about putting laughter and meditation together — as two words or an idea. I was pretty sincere with my meditation [practice], and I didn’t know that laughter could cross the boundaries into it. This book suggested laughing in the morning before getting out of bed for 15 minutes — just do some stretches, then go into the laughter mode — and to try for seven days. I did it and I was very impressed with what I found out about my laughter, how I could access it, and how much of my laughter wasn’t being accessed in a normal, natural way.
How did it feel, that first time?
The early experiments on myself for 15 minutes were simply just to laugh and reach for my laughter. Even if it was stressful and awkward at the first five minutes, somewhere along that route, I would self-ignite, remember my authentic laughter response, [and] then that would trigger an even deeper connection.
How did that evolve into something you wanted to share with others?
I had so much fun that I began sharing it as part of my healing through music workshops at various summer conferences on college campuses. The laughter section of the workshops quickly grew into an entity of their own, which I now call a Playshop.
The essence of the laughter work is opening up. First, with chanting and getting the breath released by identifying it with some sacred sounds and mantras. Then, we go into six or seven different laughter postures — or asanas, as in yoga — with each targeting an area of the body. You have the head laughter for stimulating the pituitary and pineal glands at the center of the brain, or throat laughter for stimulating the thyroid in the throat. And then in the chest; you have the timeless laughter [that lies] just behind the breastbone. We work with creative imagination and interaction as we go into these exercises.
Once we tap into our laughter, what happens next?
Everyone has a chance to revisit their inner child and instinct to play. When we get into our laughter, we’re getting into that extended sensation of lightness and buoyancy. If you can recall anyone who laughs — including yourself — how much light comes into the space. Laughter has a luminous quality: it heals, it bathes, it flows. And, bringing more of it into our lives enables us to stay a little lighter, even when we’re taking care of our business.
That’s such a beautiful way to describe it, as lightening us and also amplifying us. Can you speak to the physical benefits laughter can bring?
Laughter, as you notice, is automatic breathwork. The breath is a carrier of information that indicates to our muscles how to stay prepared for something: how to hold onto a memory that we enjoy, or even [about] something we’re terrified of. Laughter is like a Roto-Rooter — it shakes breath free, so that we can have this breath that is unloaded, unblocked, and decompressed.
Does it also have an effect on our connection to others?
Are you familiar with sacred ceremonies that open with sage and smudging? Laughter can be used in much the same way: smudging ourselves with the sound of our laughter, and smudging the energy around us and between us. My highest vision is that people take laughter as a seriously sacred ritual to link up with the omniverse. Every breath, every moment, every thought — that’s all of us.
What keeps inspiring you to continue exploring laughter so deeply?
I explore that it’s such a sacred subject — and sacred to me means beautiful, lovely, fun, groovy, boss, dope. It’s good work, because our laughter is sacred work. The way that rituals and meditation are sacred. The way that yoga is sacred. We’re bringing pieces that seem separate back into a context where they’re perceived to never have been separate.
Any tips to get started with laughter yoga on our own?
I suggest to any new participant to play — play with your toes, play with your legs, your knees, your elbows, your shoulders. Connect to your inner child, wake it up. Chant, call your own name, find a tone that you can move through your body. Imagine sending it to the areas that need it. And, watch as that tone becomes laughter.
If you feel inclined, incorporate brain laughter or throat laughter. Maybe let your stomach get involved for an inner abdominal massage. Try it for seven days. You may finally discover that the champion of your life is your own inner laughter. It’s not tickled or maniacal; it’s just yours. It’s in tune. And it’s wonderful.
We want to laugh with you. When’s the last time you tuned into the sound of your own laughter? Share what tickled you in the comments.