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Good health, a laughing matter for many Kiwis

Sunday 20 Apr 2014 4:48 p.m.

A health craze is sweeping the country, and it involves laughing at nothing at all.

Laughter yoga has been celebrated for its physical and mental benefits since it was founded in the early 1990s.

And more Kiwis are turning to the organised merriment to reduce the strains of daily life.

Laughter yoga combines deep breathing with 30 minutes of laughter exercises.

There are more than 20 laughter clubs across the country, from Northland to Invercargill.

Bob Harvey runs a class every Saturday in Ponsonby, Auckland. He says the laughter is contagious.

"You find yourself laughing so much that you forget why you're laughing," he says. "You're just laughing because you're laughing because they're laughing."

Laughter yoga was founded in 1995 by Dr Madan Kataria after he noticed the effects of laughter among his patients.

Clinical psychologist Malcolm Robertson brought the practice to New Zealand after training with Dr Kataria eight years ago.

He says at first he was sceptical, but soon discovered the health benefits of a good laugh.

"It triggers a part of our nervous system which releases endorphins or pain-killing hormones and neurotransmitters, and they make us feel good," says Mr Robertson. "Not only that – they also dissolve stress hormones."

Hannah Airey runs The Giggles – a company that practises laughter in different environments.

"We've been taking laughter workshops for mental health support groups, into prisons, corporate organisations, and it really is something for everyone," she says.

And experts say it makes no difference whether the laughs are genuine or forced.

"Laughter works even if you're totally faking it," says Mr Harvey.

Mr Robertson agrees.

"It's really telling our brain that because we're smiling, we should be happy, because we laugh, we should be joyful," he says.

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