'Laughter yoga' clubs catch on in stressed-out Hong Kong
By Beh Lih Yi, AFP
April 2, 2012, 12:02 am TWN
HONG KONG--Hypnotherapist Dick Yu has a mission that seems unthinkable to some Hong Kong people: he wants to make the Asian financial hub's seven million residents laugh.
"Hong Kong people don't laugh because they are under constant pressure to make more money, to make life better," says Yu, who has founded 11 Laughter Clubs in the southern Chinese city since 2007.
"People get worried easily because housing is so expensive, the cost of living is getting higher and people are concerned about whether they can keep their job."
The 35-year-old trained hypnotherapist set up Hong Kong's first laughter club in 2007, after he discovered the concept of laughter yoga — made popular as an exercise routine by Indian physician Madan Kataria in 1995.
Since then hundreds of heavy-hearted Hong Kongers have signed up for the free classes, a sign, experts say, of the city's underlying health and social problems.
"When you laugh, you're happier, you become positive and everything else will become better," Yu says after a one-hour laughing session in a park.
"Ho ho, ha ha ha," the group of 30 students recite. They combine the exercise with deep yogic breathing, give each other high-fives, clap and waddle like penguins, all in the name of laughter.
The fake laughter very soon breaks into the real thing, demonstrating one of the core principles of laughter yoga: laughter has physiological benefits whether it is fake or real.
As the adage "laughter is the best medicine" goes, researchers credit belly laughs as a recipe for a healthy heart. It helps expand blood vessel linings to increase blood flow, reduces stress hormones and boosts the immune system.
A British study last year showed 15 minutes of laughter increased the level of pain tolerance by around 10 percent, as the action helps to trigger the release of endorphins, the body's naturally produced pain killers.
"It was a bit awkward in the beginning when we tried to fake the laughter with the 'ho ho, ha ha ha', but after a while you can tell the difference and you feel more relaxed," said Kaman Wong at one of Yu's classes.
A child takes part in "laughter yoga" in a park in Hong Kong on Feb. 12.