NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- Treating what ails you usually involves a trip to the doctor or, occasionally, the shrink. Now, though, a novel approach to curing common complaints is found in a most unlikely location: yoga studios.
The secret ingredient in this novel prescription for living better is a good laugh.
In laughing yoga, the participants are virtual strangers, but they get together each week just to laugh. There are no mats or poses, just laughter. The act of exhaling during laughter is similar to breathing during yoga.
West Side teacher Vishwa Prakash said it works wonders.
"You walk in with so many stresses and tensions, and you walk out free," Prakash told CBS 2's Kristine Johnson.
There are no jokes and no gags, just silly exercises to get the laughter rolling. In one, group members mime pouring coffee. In another, they pretend to be lions, roaring at each other.
People who take the class said it makes them feel seriously great.
"I walk in stressed, and I leave walking on air," student Beverly Schutzman said.
"It keeps my spirits up, everything from my work to life," Rob Marchesani said.
Studies have shown that laughter can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, reduce pain, improve breathing, and relax muscles. Prakash said yoga laughter can do the same.
"It's very serious stuff. We're not comics, we're not standup types, we're not jokers – we're healers," Prakash said. "This is more than fun and games."
Administrators at Brookdale Hospital even brought Prakash in to teach a class to help doctors and staff deal with stress.
"I had tears coming down my face, my stomach hurt, my cheekbone hurt, but it was just free and liberating," Shirley Fender said.
Dr. Charles Schaefer, of Fairleigh Dickinson University, said he's not surprised that laughing yoga has caught on. He studied similar laughter and found that people who laughed heartily, for no reason and for just one minute, had a significant increase in mood.
"I don't think the body cares what the stimulus is, as long as you do that with hearty laughter," Dr. Schaefer said.
Laughter yoga itself has yet to be studied, but Prakash said he doesn't need research to know what he knows.
"You cannot help but be happy in a state of laughter," he said. "Laughter is the gateway to happiness."
There are 6,000 laughter yoga clubs worldwide. For more information, click here.
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