Laugh your stress away
Laughing can be an exercise and you will end up sweating at this laughter yoga session at the HortPark.
By Dhany Osman
Go on, laugh at this. Laughing can be an exercise and you will end up sweating.
I had heard about weekly laughter yoga sessions being held at the Horticultural Park (HortPark) off Alexandra Road.
Curious, I signed up. The instructor was none other than Ms Zaibun Siraj (above), a past president of the women's group, Association of Women for Action and Research.
I had been told earlier by a friend of hers that this woman is famous for her laughs, which can liven any party, so I knew I would be in good hands.
So one recent Tuesday evening, I joined 10 regulars in the park's serene Bamboo Grove area. The warm-up was a hand-clapping exercise, then a hearty 'ha-ha, ho-ho-ho' guffaw.
Ms Siraj's throaty, full-bodied laughter inspired me to join in with increasing gusto.
The 15 exercises included mimicking several scenarios like being at a cocktail party and pouring teh tarik, with their accompanying comic actions. My favourite was the one that had us running around pretending to burst one another's imaginary balloons.
Everyone had a good, sweaty workout by the end of the 30-minute session. I felt good.
Ms Siraj was not surprised by this. She explained that laughter yoga as an exercise combines deep breathing with tension-releasing laughter.
'One medical benefit of laughter is that it's a stress buster,' she said.
Endorphins produced by laughter can help to improve the immune system. By reducing anxiety, laughter also helps to manage diseases like hypertension and heart disease, she added.
With the deep breathing involved, it can provide a good aerobic workout too.
Psychologist Daniel Koh told Mind Your Body that there might be some long-term benefits to such exercises. While he does not know of any proven medical research, he said most forms of yoga are a good way to relax.
One regular, Mr Patrick Tan, 47, has been joining in the sessions at HortPark with his wife, daughter and mother for four weeks now.
'I feel much happier since coming here. It's more relaxing than swimming,' said Mr Tan, who runs an engineering business.
'The sessions also help to bring my wife and my mother closer together,' he said.
Ms Siraj said she picked up the exercise technique from Dr Madan Kataria, the founder of Laughter Yoga International, earlier this year when he visited Singapore.
She began her HortPark sessions two months ago with support from the National Parks Board. Each session can draw a crowd of 10 to 20 participants. They are open to the public and free.
'I hope to reach out to more people, to teach them how to laugh and be happy,' said the energetic 61-year-old.
As for me, I might still need to rely on a funny movie or TV comedy for a laugh. But at least I know now that there are other alternatives.
To find out more, log on to www.nparks.gov.sg/hortpark
This story was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times, on Nov 27, 2008.
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