Go ahead, make silly faces! You’ll feel better! Image by Flickr user Matthew Grapengieser.
For a social activity that doesn’t require knowing the local language, try heading to a laughter yoga class!
What Is Laughter Yoga?
Laughter yoga is an activity in extended voluntary laughter. Essentially, you make yourself laugh for a long period of time. In addition to practicing belly breathing and forced laughter, you might also move around in specific actions, either inducing natural laughter or mimicking it. Within the session, you could be stationary, walking around and pantomiming something (e.g. pointing to yourself or pretending to walk your wild dog), or standing back-to-back with a partner.
It’s a mental workout in taking things less seriously (though my abs did get a serious workout as well). Within a group setting, the laughter can become absolutely uncontrollable and heartwarming.
What Do You Actually Do?
An adult student of mine taught a laughter yoga seminar last weekend, and I decided to tag along.
It turned out to be surprisingly freeing despite the fact that I don’t speak the language of instruction, Czech. While he did sometimes translate the name of an activity into English for me (e.g. “love from heart to heart” or “love yourself”), my time doing yoga would have been just as beneficial if he hadn’t spoken a single English word.
I was a little uncomfortable at first, not knowing how much we were all supposed to make eye contact as we walked around the carpet ha-ha-ing and ho-ho-ing, but the other participants were warm, fearless, and valuable teachers. I simply followed their lead and dropped all pretense.
By the end of the 90-minute session, I had been back-to-back with one woman while laughter onto her shoulder; I had laid on the belly of another woman while yet another laid on mine, feeling the laughter shake our stomachs; and I had rolled on the floor like a child, following whatever whim came to me. It was splendid. We were bonded without sharing a single word.
Why Not Do Regular Yoga?
Laughter is thought to help reduce stress, relax the body, and help the body heal. According to WebMD, our bodies respond physiologically to laughter, increasing the oxygen flow to our brain in a way that’s similar to what a mild workout does.
In addition to the physical benefits, laughter can also help promote social integration within a new community. Neuroscientist Dr. Robert Provine says, “Laughter is not primarily about humor but about social relationships.”
One could imagine the people who tend to attend laughter yoga are probably going to like laughing, smiling, and enjoying life. They’re probably going to be easy-going and won’t be bothered that you don’t speak their language. It’s the perfect setting for embracing awkwardness. For example, something made me guffaw out loud at one point, and it sparked a temporary laughing fit among the group. Where else could such a faux pas be less of a mistake?
Why Laughter Yoga Is Perfect for Non-Native Speakers
Not all exercise classes would be friendly to non-speakers of the local language. I was not as impressed with spinning in another language, for example. Laughter yoga, though, is a great exception.
There is no safety risk if you don’t understand exactly what’s going on. And you wouldn’t be disturbing the tranquility of others by looking around, giggling, or making fun of yourself. Since everyone has signed up to act silly, you have free reign to be awkward — and then to laugh at it.
As an adult, not being able to communicate can be frustrating, humbling, and embarrassing. So it was an additional relief to be in a class where expressiveness is all you need for instruction and motivation.
Of course, there are many other ways to meet people abroad — through Meetup, expat forums, and more — but laughter yoga may be the perfect way to interact with people with absolutely no need of the local language. After all, laughter is universal.