A funny thing happened on the way to yoga

Christina Jelski

Over the past few years as hotels editor, I’ve covered my fair share of beyond-the-norm wellness experiences.

There was the time I met with a crystal healer, as well as chatted with an acupuncturist-slash-clairvoyant, at the Four Seasons New York Downtown. I’ve dabbled in biohacking, partaking in a 10-minute infrared light bed session and subsequently jumping into a full-body cryotherapy contraption at Upgrade Labs in Santa Monica, Calif.ย 

I’ve written about wild swimming, which generally involves an invigorating dip in a cold pond, lake or ocean, and have even done the spa equivalent, attempting to soak for a full minute in a whirlpool of ice-cold water.

I’ve laid with my eyes closed on the floor of an oceanview suite at the 1 Hotel South Beach, “bathing” in the soothing sound waves produced by singing bowls of various size, and have learned about the benefits of horse painting, offered as part of the Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa’s equine therapy program.

But one of the most memorable wellness experiences I’ve encountered to date was devoid of accoutrements like crystals, bowls or frigid waters.

All I needed for this particular experience, known as Laughter Yoga, was a layman’s understanding of yoga and the ability to make myself laugh.

I got the chance to try a Laughter Yoga session during a visit to the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan, where yoga — of both the laughing and straight-faced variety — is just one of numerous modalities offered as part of the property’s Sacred River Spa wellness programming. The spa’s wellness menu describes Laughter Yoga as “a simple and playful way to flood the body with oxygen and promote a natural sense of joy.”

Yoga instructor Wayan Suwitra during a Laughter Yoga session at the Four Seasons Resort Bali At Sayan.

My session began at 6 a.m., at the resort’s suspended Rooftop Lotus Pond, which is accessed via an elevated footbridge and surrounded on all sides by jungle. I was met there by my yoga instructor, Wayan Suwitra, who kicked things off with some background on Laughter Yoga.

According to Suwitra, the concept has been around for quite some time, with its roots going back several decades in India. Although my morning session was a private one-on-one class, Suwitra said that Laughter Yoga is most popular in a group format, which is more conducive to creating the contagious, authentic cackling that practitioners strive for.ย 

But despite rolling solo, I was up for the challenge.ย 

We unfurled our yoga mats and began with some simple breathing exercises and yoga poses, which Suwitra supplemented with laughter directives that ran the gamut from mellow “hee-hees” to deeper and more substantial “ha-has.”

At first, it was hard not to feel more than a little silly and self-aware, with each of my laughs somehow sounding even more unnatural and hollow than the last.ย 

It turns out, however, that “fake it ’til you make it” isn’t just an effective approach for boosting confidence — it can also come in handy when trying to induce laughter. A few minutes of forced laughter and several poses later, I felt my embarrassment start to fade. Just as my muscles stretched, so did my ability to genuinely giggle. And while I wasn’t 100% sure what I was laughing at, the yoga seemed to be triggering the same type of mood boost spontaneous laughter typically does.

All sense of awkwardness even remained at bay when I became aware of someone sidling up behind us, presumably curious after stumbling across what must have certainly looked — and sounded — like a highly unconventional and increasingly unhinged yoga class.

It may not be a purported benefit advertised on the spa menu, but if Laughter Yoga is able to temporarily cure self-consciousness, well, consider me a convert.ย 

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