Venezuelans in Caracas are using "laughter yoga" therapy to combat the stress of life in the country's chaotic capital city.
Laughter yoga was created by Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria in 1995, and combines sustained laughter with elements of yogic breathing.
"Gender does not matter here, nor does economic level, where you come from, or political beliefs. The intention is for people to come and laugh with other people for an hour or more. No matter what you know, you'll laugh in the end," instructor Jesus Regetti said on Sunday (February 17).
Laughter yoga sessions all begin with a brief warming-up period, followed by face exercises and laughter. Participants are encouraged to look into the eyes of other participants and watch them laughing, as the idea that laughter is contagious and unconditional is a basic premise of laughter yoga's philosophy.
"There are people who laugh about having cancer, having HIV. There are people who come here to release endorphins, to laugh about things that they don't laugh about during the week. According to TBS, you take in six times more oxygen laughing than you do breathing deeply," Regetti added.
As it is in other countries, laughter yoga sessions in Venezuela are held free of charge, and are often held in parks or other public spaces.
One participant identified only as Siulmily said that laughter yoga can help remind Venezuelans to be positive, despite uncertainties about the country's political future.
"It helps your isolation, and it helps you understand that there are things besides the political situation that we can enjoy in this country. Its people, for example," she said.
Another participant, Yetsibel Aleman, said that the sessions can take people's minds off their problems.
"Despite all the problems we have in Venezuela and here in Caracas, we come here to a little corner to forget about everything that happens out there. We laugh and we focus on our world here in the park," she said.
Studies have found that humour therapy is as effective as widely used anti-psychotic drugs in managing agitation and stress.
There are now over 6,000 "laughter clubs" in 60 countries, according to Laughter Yoga International.