Yogis embrace ‘medicinal’ laughter
To a casual observer we would appear mad, I thought while pretending to pole-vault, one of several Olympic sports that our group mimed that Saturday morning. No, we weren’t rehearsing a play nor budding athletes, but we were producing a fine chorus of chortles, chuckles and the odd snort.
Leading us in this session of laughter yoga was Louise Stevens, who had a similar impression when she first attended the Browns Bay Laughter Club in 2008. ‘‘Even now I still think it’s a bit silly, really.’’
Louise says people do walk out: they get part way through their first session and make a dash for the door. It can take months, she says, before you feel comfortable taking part in laughter yoga.
But Louise believes in the power of laughter. Back in 2008 she was her elderly mother’s fulltime carer and that was taking its toll on her.
She was stressed and needed to laugh, so a friend suggested she try laughter yoga.
Two sessions in and the group’s then leader announced she was giving it away, but Louise saw something in laughter yoga that encouraged her to combine with a few others attending the Browns Bay club to keep it going, training to become a leader herself. Today she is one of five leaders at the club who coordinate the Saturday sessions.
Regular sessions of laughter yoga are currently held in Browns Bay, Glenfield, Massey, Ponsonby and Howick.
Laughter yoga combines laughter with movement and deep breathing. Importantly, the laughter is voluntary and not based on joke-telling.
As Louise explains, a joke is often made at someone’s expense or considered offensive, so the sessions are based on laughter for no reason.
That said, being in a group of people who were acting out Olym- pic sports, book titles and ways to relieve stress while pretending to laugh did have me in stitches at times.
The benefits of laughter yoga are wide-ranging – for example, there’s the suggestion that it strengthens facial muscles and reduces wrinkles – but, regardless, there was something invigorating about kicking off the weekend with a session of playfulness and laughter.
As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. It produces endorphins, the feel-good hormones linked to physical exercise, and reduces the stress hormone, cortisol. That’s a good thing because high levels of cor- tisol can weaken the immune system.
Louise says laughter is like a form of first aid and she encourages people to utilise its effects as they go about their daily lives.
It’s also true that as adults we laugh much less than we did as children, perhaps because we connect laughing with being silly and childish, says Louise.
There’s also a lot of guilt associated with laughter, she says, particularly in times of grief.
But laughter yoga can combat this. In the words of its founder, Dr Madan Kataria: ‘‘In laughter yoga we don’t laugh because we are happy, we are happy because we laugh.’’
Donald Brannigan finds the funny bone at a laughter club.