Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1298, (2 - 8 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Yoga before Ramadan

Mai Samih prepares for the holy month of Ramadan by attending a laughter yoga session in Cairo

Al-Ahram Weekly

As the holy month of Ramadan approaches, people are seeking different methods of purifying their souls in preparation. One of these could be laughter yoga, a new type of yoga that involves laughter exercises followed by meditation to help relieve symptoms of stress and uncover the spirituality that can be buried by daily routine.

“All the negative emotions in our hearts can be released through laughter yoga. Feelings of anger, anxiety and grudges can disappear. These negative emotions can keep people away from their spiritual sides,” said holistic consultant Mariam Emara. She is in charge of the laughter yoga sessions at the Blue Lotus well-being centre in Heliopolis.

“The more the soul is cleansed through a purification process such as laughter yoga, the higher the spirituality will be. It is a way of taking down the barrier between us and our souls.”

Emara was the first to introduce laughter yoga to Egypt as before it was only practiced abroad. Its aims include eliminating stress from people’s minds and souls, as well as helping participants achieve a better quality of life. It also helps people find happiness and enhance their intelligence, she said.

“It’s very important to have this type of yoga here in Egypt, as many people are subjected to stress. It is a combination of traditional yoga, breathing exercises and laughter exercises which replaces negative energy with positive and stress with happiness and inner peace,” said Emara. It also claims to build the immune system and thus can help prevent diseases linked to stress.

For Emara, meditation is a way of separating the body from the soul. Such techniques, when used with laughter yoga, can help with bodily problems like obesity because they can help free the soul from the body.

“People with problems like addiction may find a cure in such exercises. They help reorder the brain and help people focus on their original spiritual essence,” she said. Both meditation and laughter yoga aim at purifying the soul.

She describes a typical session of laughter yoga. “There are laughter exercises to train people in laughter, then there is laughter meditation, and then guided relaxation. Each session is divided into three,” Emara explained.

At the first section, participants do warm-up exercises like stretching, moving their bodies, and even singing. The aim is to develop a feeling of childlike playfulness and break down restraints. Between each part there are breathing exercises to prepare the lungs for laughter.

Once the breathing exercises and laughter exercises are combined with playful gestures, participants often start to laugh. This part ends with what is called “laughter meditation,” and by then laughter should be flowing like water from a fountain.

“The deeper the laughter, the deeper the meditation at the end of the session,” said Emara, adding that the body does not by this stage differentiate between voluntary laughter and spontaneous laughter.

Laughter yoga was first developed in Mumbai, India, by Madan Kataria, a doctor with an interest in traditional therapies. In 1983. Kataria studied psychosomatic diseases, or disorders that can be caused by mental conditions and that may include hypertension or even some forms of cancer.

He believed that some such diseases were caused by psychiatric problems and found that laughter could benefit those suffering from them. Kataria started to experiment with laughter exercises, looking at ways to induce the feelings of well-being that laughter can provide.

“As soon as someone starts laughter exercises, he takes out the stress that is within his body through laughter. After a while people will not be able to stop laughing. People feel relaxed after they finish the exercises. Some people might have a back or neck condition, for example, but the exercises can help such symptoms because in many cases they are due to psychological stress,” Emara said.

The breathing exercises that are part of laughter yoga help expel negative energy from the body and replace it with positive energy, renewing the blood circulation. This results in a state of internal peace that is no longer clouded by stress.

The sessions can be tailored to the particular needs of the participants and their daily activities or backgrounds. If the exercises are for factory workers, for example, they may be different from those used with people with emotional problems. There are also general sessions.

Laughter yoga can be used in stress-management programmes, specially tailored to treat the kind of stress the target participants suffer from. If workers suffer from stress because of repetitive physical movements, for example, Emara will design exercises that help to rid them of such stress and ensure that it does not return.

“It is the first time I have joined a yoga class. From the moment I started I felt the friendly atmosphere,” said one participant, a housewife who chose to remain unnamed. “Everyone was excited, but I did not feel much at first. However, by the end of the session I had started to feel a change.”

She continued, “I think one session is not enough for me to explore this new type of yoga. I am looking forward to attending the spiritual meditation session Emara will be organising as I think you can’t get all the positive energy you need from just a single session.”

 “If people practice laughter yoga on a weekly basis, they will feel the benefits. If they can do the exercises whenever they feel stress or even on a daily basis, it will be even better. The best thing about laughter yoga is that it is done in groups as laughter is contagious. The more the merrier, as they say.” Said Emara

She added, “On 30 April, I organised a session in Al-Azhar Park in Cairo. Some 500 people participated and they were very responsive to what was happening. Every Friday morning I intend to organise free laughter yoga sessions in Al-Azhar Park. I aim to encourage everyone to practice laughter yoga, and this is an open invitation to do so.”

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