Don’t make me laugh
Laughter Yoga at Yoga Loka
There’s something in the meme. Every time something comes up on the internet or in conversations over coffee about Laughter Yoga, a member of my staff would say, “Brian, you have to do a Filet on Laughter Yoga.” “Fine,” I always reply, but I can’t afford $200 to figure out if it’s something I want to write about. Why’s this always so expensive?”
First, let me explain why it’s so expensive. It’s a new practice, “invented” in 1995 in Mombai, India, by a medical doctor, Madan Kataria. Now, there are more than 6,000 laughter yoga clubs in the world. It’s so new, that in order for a practice to take root in a new community, people have to be trained on how to teach it. So this was quite literally the first opportunity I saw to participate in a public, open class, and it only cost me $12.
The positive effects of laughter are legion. Laughter releases endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals. Laughter improves circulation. Laughter relaxes the entire body. Laughter gets credit for things like easing social situations, improving mood and helping digestion. (OK, I just made up that last part, but I really do feel better after a meal shared with friends and laughter.)
My instructor at Yoga Loka was Gita “Jill” Fendelman of Tucson, Arizona. She began teaching regular Hatha yoga in 1971. In 2004, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which cost her body flexibility and strength and causes chronic pain. However, she found 20 minutes of laughter can make the pain disappear for hours. “I consider Laughter Yoga a part of my ‘inner pharmacy’ and so far I’ve not found it necessary to take any prescription drugs,” she wrote on her website, www.laughteryogawithgita.com.
In Laughter Yoga, there are only two official rules: 1) No new pain—in other words, stop if you bust a gut; 2) No talking—talking takes you to that rational part of the brain that Laughter Yoga is trying to take you away from. I’d add that eye contact must be maintained.
There are few real asanas (the positions yoga is most known for), so I’ll bet there is some controversy as to whether this is real yoga, but since it ended with a meditation, I’m siding with the “real yoga” camp.
We started with some laughter exercises, including laughter introductions: “My name is Marlene” … everybody laughs … “And these are my two daughters” … everybody laughs hard. And by the way, it doesn’t matter that this mostly isn’t feel-it-in-your-belly laughter, the benefits of tension and release—mental, emotional and physical—are there whether you feel the humor or not.
Another exercise was a cocktail party where we walked around and made party conversation with gestures, but only using nonsensical sounds: Blah, blah, blah. BlahblahBLAHblah blah. (I just offered you hors d’oeuvres.)
The final exercise was about five minutes of sustained laughter. We began with a chuckle and worked our way to full-blown, fall-out-of-our chairs guffaws. I could actually feel the magic that comes from being in a room full of laughing people jolting through my body.
I laughed til I was lightheaded, and we ended the practice with a four- to six-minute meditation. I left feeling somewhat invigorated but a bit perplexed as to whether this is really a thing I’d be interested in pursuing. As I passed Center Street on my way back to the office, I gave a dollar to a person who was holding a “homeless” sign on the freeway offramp. I was all the way to the office before I remarked to myself that I couldn’t remember ever giving a dollar to one of those freeway offramp panhandlers before. I guess I’ll leave it up to you as to whether it was mere coincidence.