Engstrom discovered laughter yoga while living in Mexico. Between exercises in her class, participants chant “Muy Bien! Muy Bien!” while clapping and performing hand gestures.
In January 2015, Engstrom founded Health and Happiness Align.
She now runs yoga laughter classes for local businesses, senior centers, assisted living communities, community organizations and health groups.
Laughter yoga is different from traditional forms, Engstrom said.
“It’s about cultivating laughter and consciously laughing,” she said. “The reason why it’s called laughter yoga is the connection with the breath. Essentially laughter is just a way to facilitate deep breathing.”
According to a handout from Engstrom’s class, the benefits of laughter include a strengthened immune system, aerobic exercise, decreased blood pressure and increased life expectancy, among others.
“It doesn’t matter whether or not the laughter is real or fake — you get the same health benefits,” she said.
Rarely do class participants talk to each other. Laughter is instead used as language.
“Not only are you getting that social feedback, but you’re also forming bonds,” Engstrom said.
Thursday night’s class at Vegan Flava Cafe in Durham began with participants getting loose — in this case, shaking out their body parts while continuing to laugh.
As the class continued, Engstrom encouraged participants to bring out their inner child. There were no jokes told, but conversation was uplifting and exercises created parallels to day-to-day activities.
Class members pretended to type on imaginary computers, pretended like they had randomly laughed at something funny and even pretended to take showers.
“We are going to be showering, however, we have a special soap called laughter soap,” Engstrom said. “So what you’re going to be doing, is every time you rub it on your skin, it’s ticklish! And you start to giggle.”
UNC juniors Tonie Stephan and Hayley Buckless attended Thursday’s class for their first time doing laughter yoga. Stephan’s favorite part was talking in gibberish.
“At first it was awkward, but I think having (Buckless) around and having everyone else get past it too helped.”
Buckless agreed and said she liked learning about laughter’s physical benefits.
Engstrom ends classes with a brief meditation, which concludes with giggles as Engstrom recites one of laughter yoga’s most important principles.
“We do not laugh because we are happy,” she said. “We are happy because we laugh.”