Laughter Yoga and Parkinson's

Jon Bockelmann-Evans is a qualified Laughter Yoga teacher and practitioner. Alongside Parkinson’s specialist physiotherapist Bhanu Ramaswamy, Jon explains more about how Laughter Yoga can help you when you have Parkinson’s.

What is Laughter Yoga?

Laughter is good for you. But you don’t always need to find something hilarious to have uncontrollable bouts of laughter. Did you know you can learn how to laugh voluntarily, which can give you all the same benefits that belly laughing watching your favourite comedian does? This is called Laughter Yoga.

Laughter Yoga is usually done in a group setting. It’s not the same as traditional yoga, so there’s no complicated poses. A class usually begins with a gentle warm-up to get your blood flowing, face muscles moving and your voice ready. Then you complete a series of ‘laughter exercises’. The group will be asked to do a simple movement or action, but laughing out loud while doing so.

Between each exercise you focus on slow, mindful breathing. This is to help everyone keep up with the pace.

Each session ends with everyone lying or sitting down, laughing out loud or completely relaxing. This is usually people’s favourite part of the class – ripples of uncontrollable laughter will often spread throughout the group. Some people laugh so hysterically they end up crying.

How does it help?

Every time you laugh, it makes you breathe deeper. Not only does that mean you take in more air, but it makes your heart beat faster and your lung muscles work harder. These are both good for you, especially if your ribcage and abdomen are becoming stiffer because of your Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s can cause speech and communication problems, but Laughter Yoga can help you maintain a louder voice and finish a sentence when you’re talking. It also helps force a strong cough, which is important for helping you clear your lungs properly.

Laughter Yoga releases mood-boosting chemicals including endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. At the same time it reduces the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol.

What if I look silly?

You may find laughing on cue easy, while it can be more challenging for others. It’s normal at first to feel a little self-conscious.

While the idea of laughing out loud in a group of people may seem unusual or even embarrassing, laughter is infectious so it quickly turns into something genuinely funny. The playfulness of the exercises means you quickly stop thinking about ‘acting silly’ and instead, embrace the feeling of laughing like a child and not having a care in the world.

How do I get started?

Most Laughter Yoga is performed in a group setting. As well as the laughter itself, the social interaction can really help with your overall wellbeing. 

If you’re unsure about joining a class with strangers, think about bringing your partner, friend or family member along. Or ask a small group of people you know to give it a go with you.

You can also incorporate the techniques into your daily life – using laughter while you’re washing the dishes, or getting dressed for example.

When a group of people get together, smiling and maintaining eye contact, laughter quickly ensues.


Try it at home

Breathe in, shrug your shoulders, then breathe out and relax them.


Repeat this action but this time smile as you breathe in.


Repeat, but this time make a ‘haaaaa’ noise as you breathe out.


Repeat, and this time raise your eyebrows as you smile. Make the ‘haaaaa’ noise as you breathe out, but louder. If you’re with someone, turn and make eye contact as you do this.


Pat the air in front of you and go ‘Ha, ha’.


Pat the air down towards the ground and go ‘Ho, ho’.


Pat the air up towards the sky and go ‘Hee, hee’.


Repeat the above three actions and sounds in a cycle, speeding up as you go until you can’t go any faster.


Extend your arms wide, look upwards and throw your head back. Laugh as if you rule the world!


Clench your fists and bring them into the front of your chest. Take a huge breath in, as deep as you can, hold it, and then EXPLODE with laughter.


Try laughing yoga for free online

Jon runs a weekly online laughter class, Laughing Fit, on Tuesday evenings from 8–8.30pm. It’s free, but you need to register to get the Zoom link. 

Visit eventbrite to sign up.