Singaporeans who stretch and laugh their way to better health

Laughter yoga facilitator during one of her free sessions by the Singapore River. (Photo: Nurul Azliah/Yahoo Singapore)

Yoga typically conjures images of participants assuming challenging bodily postures while in a meditative state but one instructor is stretching the notion about the ancient discipline by embracing the maxim that laughter is the best medicine.

Yvonne Looi, 33, is a laughter yoga facilitator who has helped around 3,000 people in Singapore like executives and retirees to giggle their way to lower stress levels and greater happiness.

During each 45-minute session, Looi instructs participants to warm up by introducing themselves to one another, clapping, and holding a conversation. The fun part begins when the participants begin routines such as moving in pairs in circles and swiveling their waists, while laughing out loud at the same time.

Unlike many yoga sessions held in studios, Looi conducts two free laughter yoga sessions every month by the Singapore River outside the Asian Civilisations Museum. Since holding her first session in 2012, Looi has seen an increase in participation from just a “handful” to up to 30 people each time.

Calling herself a “joyologist”, or an expert in the science of happiness, Looi said that regular laughter yoga sessions can bring health benefits to participants such as lowering the risk of diabetes and improving blood circulation.

“It’s great for making you look younger, happier and happy people live longer,” said Looi. “One minute of laughter is equivalent to 10 minutes at the rowing machine. It’s good for your heart.”

Laugher yoga began in 1995 when Indian doctor Madan Kataria held the first session of the exercise routine in Mumbai, and has since taken off around the world with thousands of “Laugh Clubs” set up.

Targeting busy working individuals in Singapore

Looi chose the heart of the Central Business District to hold her sessions as she wants to reach out to “very stressful” executives who are caught up with the daily grind of working life.

“Work can be a very serious and stern place. Some of them told me that sometimes they don’t even laugh or smile the whole day. So these sessions are really good for them,” Looi said.

Alvin Lim, 42, who works in a bank, feels more refreshed physically and mentally after attending several laughter yoga sessions conducted by Looi. “It helps me to manage my stress at work and at home, I have friendlier interactions with people and have less temper,” he said.

During the sessions, Looi would also advise participants to adopt a positive outlook even when the going gets tough in their lives. “Positive thinking alone is not enough, we need to constantly look for positive things to do that you enjoy,” she said.

Living up to her mission to bring joy to the masses, Looi has managed to attract participants of diverse age groups. Among them is 76-year-old retiree Morris Ng, who decided to attend laughter yoga sessions regularly after trying it once.

“It’s something new for me to try. It makes me feel youthful, healthier, less stressful, and I get to know new people,” Ng said.